Teachers of the Heart

At the end of last year I was lucky enough to be accepted for a place on the 2017 Defining Practice course at Newlyn School of Art. Hopefully recording aspects of my practice on this blog will play a useful part in developing my work over the coming months.

Choosing five artists to write about from the many who’ve inspired and influenced me wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. From a starting point of identifying the major influences on the finished pieces I feel most happy with, I’ve been able to arrive at a deeper understanding of the ways in which my practice so far has been sustained by admiration and respect for the work of the following individuals. This post is dedicated to them, as well as to the many others I haven’t been able to include but whose generosity in sharing their work has encouraged my efforts along the way.

 

JOSEPH CORNELL  (1903 – 1972)

Cornell’s imaginative transformation of everyday things, his love of the past and his addiction to the thrill of the hunt are part of his appeal for me, and the sense of connection that I felt when I first read Deborah Solomon’s biography, ‘Utopia Parkway’, came from recognising a kindred spirit. I’m uncomfortably aware that the impossibility/undesirability of copying his pieces can’t be overstated, but as someone who’s relentlessly curious and who gathers ideas and materials together slowly from sometimes unexpected sources, I’m unwilling to turn away from the inspiration that he offers. I find it interesting to speculate on what Cornell would have done if he’d had access to the internet and the opportunity to create a website. He might well have found eBay a useful resource on a practical level as I do, but the magical atmosphere of his beloved city streets and the parks and cafes that he visited as part of his shopping excursions would be lacking, and overall I think he would have found life in the 21st Century distinctly uninspiring.

Click here and here for more information on the life and work of Joseph Cornell


A collection of material for a possible future project on Edward James. For more on this theme see also my ‘digital dossier’ on the poet Robert Stephen Hawker 

 

EDWIN SMITH  (1912 – 1971)

Edwin Smith’s photos of buildings, interiors and landscapes are haunting and atmospheric and I’m often struck by the way in which he composes foregrounds, which are something I’ve struggled with. In addition to a career as an internationally acclaimed photographer, Smith also drew, painted or engraved every day. Looking at his beautiful images leaves me feeling nourished and refreshed and makes me determined to work harder at my own pictures and to achieve better results.

Click here for more information on the life and work of Edwin Smith


Angela Williams, St Nectan’s, Welcombe, Devon, 2011


Angela Williams, Snowy Morning, St Gregory’s, Dawlish, 2010

 

ALICE FOX

Alice Fox is a textile artist who uses paper and found materials as well as cloth. She frequently works out of doors and her sensitivity to the particularities of her chosen places, combined with her scientific training as geographer, makes her an inspirational person for me. Reading about her residency at Spurn Head and looking at images of the work she produced there stimulated ideas that I’m still exploring today, and her contribution to The Sketchbook Project inspired me to create a similar book (see below). I’m deeply impressed by the generosity and thoroughness with which she has documented her creative processes over the past seven years and I highly recommend spending some time browsing her extensive website.

Click here to visit Alice Fox’s website and here to read her post on The Sketchbook Project


Angela Williams, experimental sketchbook : oak gall ink, india ink and collage, 2013


Angela Williams, experimental sketchbook: tea, soluble graphite and collage, 2013

 

ALISA GOLDEN

Before I discovered Alisa Golden’s books I purchased a number of other works on the same topic and ended up giving all of them to charity shops without ever having completed a single project. What discouraged me, apart from the complexity and mechanical-looking perfection of the examples illustrated, was the fact that few of the books in the photos included any original content. Discovering Alisa’s work has made it possible for me to begin to express myself in ways that match my own instincts. Her found poems, technical wizardry and thoughtful and precise instructions make her an inspiring role model and teacher. It’s sobering to reflect on how much I’ve been able to learn from her, and still hope to learn, especially as despite much searching I haven’t yet come across another bookbinder who operates the way she does.

Click here to find out more about the work of Alisa Golden


Angela Williams, eco printed books and fabric, 2013


Angela Williams, winged book with pockets, 2016

 

LEONARD COHEN  (1934 – 2016)

I’ve saved Leonard Cohen until last because the debt I owe him is almost impossible to express in words. I love his willingness to take risks; the range of his sympathies; his generosity; the physicality of his art; his grace under pressure; his refusal to settle for less than the best result; his commitment to beauty. Also his work ethic, his sense of humour and his seriousness. I was fifteen when his songs first started weaving themselves into the fabric of my life and they’ve been helping me to hold things together ever since. How do you measure the gratitude that comes from the simple fact of knowing that somewhere on the planet for all those years he was going about his business, being and doing, blackening pages, making art?

VARIATION
by Federico García Lorca

Beneath the bough of the echo
only air.

Beneath a stem of stars
only water.

Beneath a thicket of kisses
your mouth.

 

Click here for the home page of The Leonard Cohen Files website. Allan Showalter’s excellent Cohencentric: Leonard Cohen Considered is also well worth a visit.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Writing this post has drawn my attention to similarities between these five artists which weren’t immediately apparent to me before. All of them are hard-working individuals with a clear sense of purpose in regard to their art. Much of what they create carries with it an awareness of life’s fragility and, in some cases, a powerful sense of loss. They are makers and craftspeople rather than fine artists, and writing and photography tend to play an important part in their work. Surrealism crops up surprisingly frequently and Cohen’s comments on Lorca, which I discovered while I was writing this, have an unexpected echo in my own remarks above:

‘I was fifteen when I began to read Federico Garcia Lorca. His poems perhaps have had the greatest influence on my texts. He summoned up a world where I felt at home. His images were sensual and mysterious: “throw a fist full of ants to the sun.” I wanted to be able to write something like that as well.’

Although Joseph Cornell was never truly a member of any Surrealist group, Surrealism had a powerful influence on his work, and he too was an admirer of Lorca. Alisa Golden’s found poems utilise a well-known Surrealist technique and Alice Fox’s stitched acorns and sea shells have an offbeat strangeness about them. At their lyrical best, Surrealist methods of working offer us a way of seeking out the unexpected and operating beyond our accustomed limits. These are fruitful tactics for any artist to employ and I look forward to exploring them in my work over the coming months.

 

Note: The version of Federico García Lorca’s poem, ‘Variacion’, shown above, was translated from the Spanish by Angela Williams in 2008 and was originally posted in the Leonard Cohen Flickr Group

All text and images © Angela Williams 2017

Bookbinding class

I recently had a chance to attend a bookbinding class with Claire Gladstone at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead. Claire turned out to be a very patient and generous tutor and under her guidance we each managed to produce three books during the course of the day. We began by making a simple stitched pamphlet which produced satisfyingly quick results and then moved on to a Japanese stab binding with a leather front cover and a back made from bookcloth glued onto greyboard. I’d never worked with bookcloth before and found it tricky to stick down, so my corners didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped they would. Prodding holes through both covers plus a thickish pad of paper also turned out to be a challenge and I wound up feeling less than happy with my finished piece.

I didn’t have time to linger over this as Claire was already explaining what we needed to do for our third book. She’d chosen to show us how to stitch a Coptic binding, which is ideal for making sketchbooks as it allows the pages to open flat and lends itself to some inventive interpretations in experienced hands. Everything we needed was provided, including a curved needle, and the afternoon passed in a blur, with requests for help coming from all sides of the room and a determinedly suspended disbelief on my part that any undertaking this complicated could possibly result in a satisfactory outcome.

Magically, and with only a few glitches along the way, I found myself with a finished book in my hands well before clearing-up time and was able to come home with a feeling of achievement and plenty of inspiration for future work. This was very much down to Claire’s thoughtful provision and the patience with which she answered our seemingly endless queries while offering lots of inspiring advice and encouragement and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity of working with her.

Text and images © Angela Williams 2017

Oak

OAK

At the back of the churchyard
an oak has rooted beside a grave;
each year the lichened slab is covered with galls.

Searching among tussocks of wet grass
I find celandines, primroses, violets,
last year’s foxgloves
springing again from the base of a plinth;

Reginald William Hobhouse,
Son of . . . Died Oct 27th 1854,
‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven’.

I draw the headstone, yew bark, a rusted gate.
Birdsong contradicts the keen wind.
Nothing is missing, everything is complete.
I draw the oak.

Angela Williams
10 January 2017

Text and images © Angela Williams 2017

Rust prints and ink lettering

Following on from my previous iron gall ink making post, here’s a quick update on what I did next.

After removing the dyed linen cloth I used the rusty metal to make several prints. For the darker one on the left I placed it onto heavy cartridge paper and applied tea using a pipette. The lighter version on the right was done afterwards – I used the same technique but in this case I filled the pipette with water instead of tea.

Here’s what happened when I omitted the white vinegar in the hope of simplifying my ink recipe! Skimming off the mould and boiling up the ink with added vinegar seems to have corrected the problem, though I’m now storing the bulk of my supply in the fridge to be on the safe side.

Trying out the new ink. Expressive calligraphy written with one of the oak twigs that I picked up while I was collecting the galls.

 

Text and images © Angela Williams 2017

Dawlish Churchyard Yew

The Common Yew growing beside the tower of St Gregory’s Church, Dawlish, has recently been added to the online gazetteer maintained by the Ancient Yew Group. The entry is divided into two sections: the first supplies info on the location while the second provides details of the tree itself.

The girth of the tree at the narrowest point is 11 feet 4 inches (345cm) which means it doesn’t qualify as a veteran – that category is reserved for trees known to be over 300 years old or with a girth of over 12 feet – but it’s been included in the Unclassified section as it’s a very fine specimen and there are currently no other records for Dawlish.

I hadn’t attempted to establish a planting date because I’d assumed this information would be lost, but apparently plantings were sometimes recorded in the churchwarden’s notes, so finding out if these survive has now been added to my ‘to do’ list.

Text and image © Angela Williams 2017

Making Iron Gall Ink

Raw material – a mix of crushed oak galls and twigs.

Ingredients assembled: selection of rusty iron objects, crushed galls, old linen cloth from charity shop, old saucepans.

Combined fabric dyeing and ink making in progress. Oak galls and rusty nails in jar filled with plain water. Linen cloth soaked in clean water then folded and wrapped around a large rusty object and bound tightly in place with string. The inner saucepan is filled with strong tea while the outer one is filled with water and serves as an improvised bain-marie/double boiler.

After boiling for an hour or two the set-up was left to stand undisturbed for a couple of days to allow the cloth to take up the dye and the ink to ‘brew’.

Both cloth and ink are intended for use as part of an ongoing project – I’ll be posting updates on this as it develops.

Text and images © Angela Williams 2017