Archive

Tag Archives: art

My second day in India began with a beautiful breakfast of pasta, potato and cumin soup, with cucumber and tomato on the side. It was at once delicate and packed with flavour, and testament to Ashis’s cooking prowess. It was also exactly what I needed, having just about seen the jetlag off and suddenly very ready for some food in my belly.

After breakfast we sat in the studio/communal area and had an interesting discussion where we shared our thoughts on what makes an artist and the nature of art. Ashis shared with me some of his background and experience in art, he is exceptionally knowledgeable and has spent years cultivating a wide-ranging artistic background in fields ranging from animation (where he ran his own studio) to setting up the first art gallery in Hydrabad, teaching art and much more. He is currently working on developing the Bhubaneswar residency into a gallery/art centre and has big plans in the pipeline. His goal, he explained, is to make India a global leader in art. The irony being that there is so much art already being produced in India, however until now it has not yet been coherently linked to create a recognisable movement. Ashis wants to change this and believes strongly that art can create a common bond not only within India but internationally. Through art and culture, sharing and experiencing, we can all grow and build a community of artists. He is clearly a determined, passionate person with knowledge, talent and drive – if anyone can do it, I believe he can! His philosophy resonated with me, as it encompasses the same vision with which I and others set up the Dartford Arts Network (DAN). Our goal was smaller, with focus on the local area and bringing artists together to create a community which can work together to drive creativity and artistic progression, but the principle is the same. Another commonality we share is the resolve to enlighten people to the fact that everyone is an artist and has a creative soul. It is inherent in our very being, no matter who you are. One of my primary objectives for DAN is to find a way to draw the artist out of non-artistic people, particularly adults. Children have no problem being artists, they have not yet lost their self-belief, a wonderful by-product of their innocent state. Adults on the other hand, regularly claim ‘I can’t do art’. Their fear of being ‘bad’ at it overwhelming any instinct to try. This is something I feel strongly needs to change in society and is a battle I personally intend to try to fight in my own way with DAN.

Following this stimulating discussion, we were visited by a local art student, Laxminarayan, who brought some of his work to show Ashis. Beautiful watercolours depicting the local caves included some delicate figures silhouetted against the sky, and clever, gentle highlighting gave the setting sun’s rays a voice of their own in the works. There were also some evocative pencil sketches, and an intriguing abstract work, which he explained was inspired by what it must be like to be a blind person, in a life without colour. He was motivated to paint this following a visit to a local blind school, where he met with students and felt moved by their experience. His work was very interesting, and Ashis gave him some pointers on colour technique, which I found thought-provoking too. Laxminarayan explained how Ashis is very well respected in his field – he is a great artist, he said, to which I agreed.

Laxminarayan showing Ashis his work.
Laxminarayan’s artwork

After this, we headed off to a community picnic for the residents of the local area – GA Colony. We got a lift with a neighbour and friend of Ashis’s family, and I had to remind myself of the freedom in India, as I instinctively reached for my seatbelt in vain. 3km or so down the road, we arrived at a large farmhouse with beautiful grounds. I got many double takes and was clearly a local novelty, but everyone was extremely friendly and hospitable, asking where I come from and even inviting me to the city’s rotary club meeting! Sadly, as I am not a rotary member I had to decline. The ‘picnic’ was being held in the gardens, with the food being prepared in huge outdoor pots on stoves for about 40 guests. As we waited for the food to be cooked, Ashis took me around the garden and pointed out the many different types of tree growing there. A stark contrast to our gardens, of course, there were lemon, guava and cinnamon, and many more of which I have forgotten most (forgive my poor brain, it is rather in a state of information overload). A group of women arrived and formed a beautiful sight, meandering through the fruit trees in their striking, vividly coloured saris. Food was served – a variety of dishes on one plate, including daal, rice, a selection of curries, chutney, and a mutton curry in a separate pot. Being my first experience of mutton, I was intrigued and apprehensive, but after one taste, it was all I could do to give a quick thumbs up before I shovelled more into my mouth. It was genuinely one of the best dishes I have ever tasted, with the meat so tender it fell apart gracefully as it hit my tongue, while the rich sauce awoke every single one of my tastebuds. After the main meal came a small pot of sweet dessert which tasted much like rice pudding and was utterly delicious. The leftover food and paper plates were tossed in a pile for the dogs to finish off and with my stomach still being a bit unsettled after the jetlag, the dogs were delighted with my decent offerings!

Outdoor kitchen at the farmhouse
Community picnic
Ashis’ friends and family

After meeting some of Ashis’s friends and family, we set off back to the house on the scooter. I was nervous, as this was my first time on a scooter and no helmets in India, obviously (although I have seen a few signs since then saying ‘better safe than sorry, wear a helmet’ – which made me laugh as I may have seen 1 person wearing a helmet in nearly 2 weeks) but didn’t have time to worry as we were off, me riding a gracefully 19th century side-saddle style, due to wearing a dress. My worries soon faded though as we set off, the warm wind flowing over my face and head, smells of every kind ebbing and flowing as we passed street stalls, cows, groups of dogs and houses. I felt at that moment that I would probably feel I had lived more in India in 2 weeks than a lifetime in England. The whole place just feels like LIFE. It’s a cliché and a simplistic explanation, but it truly cannot be expressed in words. It is a combination of sight, smell, sound, every sense you can feel. India opens them all up, like the lotus flower, you suddenly feel as if you are awake. Oh, so this is life. While many places in the West supress the experience of living, for various socio-political reasons developed over generations, India expresses it with vivacity.

Cooking en mass on outdoor stoves

On our return to the house I had a little nap to indulge the jetlag before a 40minute meditation, which reached deeply enough to make me feel almost asleep, but not quite. I felt extremely relaxed afterwards and instantly made an abstract sketch, which looked very different to my previous work. Day 2 and my work is being influenced by India already, I thought.

Dinner was Chapati and vegetable curry made by Ashis’ mum. It was astounding and is so far beyond the Indian food I have had from takeaway restaurants at home, that I fear I may never enjoy UK curries again! After dinner we set my programme for the week, a packed schedule full of culture and exciting trips, before a final few days working on my art using my experiences as inspiration. Tomorrow is the Tribal Museum and my first trip into the City proper…very exciting…

Me with Ashis’ family and friends


Camera at the ready, eyeballs on the lookout – yet my first day in the city of Vienna yielded no palpably exciting images, despite an abundance of beauty and grandeur of aesthetic spectacle on every corner thanks to the legacy of the dominating Habsburg Empire.

There was plenty there for everyone, with unending streams of tourists lining up to snap the top tourist attractions, and photographers such as my sister (whose speciality is in photographing people) lapping up the melee of crowds surrounding said tourist spots.

As for me, I felt somewhat at sea photography-wise. My mood wasn’t brilliant, my stress levels were high, and I struggled to find that sweet spot when you just know a shot is working.

Until, that is, me and the family embarked upon an unexpected post-dinner walk down to the beautiful Danube (well, a tributary – a damn big tributary actually). The riverbank hit my sweet spot. Street art and graffiti as far as the eye could see lit by low, coloured lights and punctuated by stark streetlamps in places. This was a bit of me.

Mo Mowlam (for Kelly)

I’ll admit I know less about Mo Mowlam than I should. So, I suspect, do you.

A classic example of an influential woman, whose wide-reaching and astounding achievements were overshadowed by the personalities of bullish men in positions of power.

Mo, who in her younger years worked for Tony Benn, became the MP for Redcar in 1987 and appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in 1992 under then Labour Leader John Smith. Following Smith’s death, she became the principal organiser of Tony Blair’s leadership campaign, and after his successful election to PM in 1997, was given the role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. At the time, this was a huge task to undertake, the Troubles were still ongoing and the devastating Omagh bombing in August ’98 illustrates just how inflammable the situation still was. Mo approached the challenge head-on and unafraid, credited by contemporaries as “the catalyst that allowed politics to move forward which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. She cut through conventions and made difficult decisions that gave momentum to political progress.” (Peter Hain 2005)

There’s no doubt that Mo’s work in Ireland during this time was key to the peace process which followed; she ensured Sinn Fein were included in the dialogue leading up to the agreement, helped to restore an IRA ceasefire and visited the notorious Maze prison to talk with loyalist prisoners (many convicted murderers) in an attempt to connect with the ordinary people whose lives her work would be affecting. By all accounts, her ability to empathise and to forge a relationship with the ordinary people involved in the situation, particularly the women, opened up an avenue of dialogue to her which remained closed to others. It was instrumental to her role of negotiator, and is why many people are convinced that the peace process would not have happened without her.

Her part in the development of the agreement began to be deliberately overshadowed by Blair as the links with Unionist parties began to sour. Around this time she remarked to then-US President Bill Clinton: “Didn’t you know? I’m the new tea lady around here”, a clear indication of how she felt to be sidelined, as the men took the glory. In 1999 she was replaced in her role by Peter Mandelson and demoted to Cabinet Office Minster, not exactly deserved recognition for a woman of such astounding achievements.

It is notable how during this process the male position gave with one hand and took away with the other, depending on how it served them best. At the time of her death, Blair rightly said “It is no exaggeration to say she transformed the politics not just of Northern Ireland itself but crucially of relations between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and it was this transformation that created the culture in which peace-making could flourish … suddenly nationalist, republican and Catholic Ireland had every preconception of the English up-ended and rendered out of date. She didn’t have to talk about equality. She exuded it, naturally and with an absence of affectation that was marvellous to behold … she bowled everyone over.” However in April this year, on the anniversary of the agreement, her name was noticeable in its  absence. Not a single mention for the woman who unlocked the door for the future of peace in Ireland?

Mo’s stepdaughter Henrietta Norton, a filmaker, wrote in an article earlier this year of how she has been trying to get a story about Mo commissioned as a film piece to “celebrate and explore her legacy for contemporary women”. Responses ranged from “no one would be interested” to, we “couldn’t see who would watch it”. Erm…yes they would, I would, and so would most other women I know. It highlights the level to which her role in history has been degraded and overshadowed by the actions of men who did less. A common theme throughout history, and one which we must continually try to combat.

My friend Kelly asked me to produce a portrait of Mo for an exhibition in Dartford celebrating the 100 year anniversary of votes for women. In wondering how to portray her, I instinctively wanted to avoid any obvious signs of the illness for which she is sadly so well remembered, but which must not define her. A number of people said they didn’t recognise her without her thinning hair. My point exactly; I wouldn’t have either. But I will now. I hope people can look closely at her face without the signs of her illness and see in her eyes the determination and bravery of a truly remarkable woman in history.

Produced for Stephen Oliver’s Votes for Women exhibition at his gallery in Dartford. Pencil on paper.

20180622_081133
I created this mixed media work using a process which combines elements of meditation and ‘stream of consciousness’ style drawing. In short, I attempt to clear my mind of all thoughts and distractions and allow my hand to do as it wishes with the pen.
In this instance I cleared my mind of all thoughts but one – Lucy – I thought about my experiences with her, her personality traits, her aura and how I perceive her, and allowed this to represent on the paper as expressed through the pen in my hand. I tried hard not to think about what might look good, I actively worked not to be influenced by learnt beliefs about what might work or not work, and aesthetic success. I am sure I wasn’t able to lose this element entirely, but my point is mainly that I did not actively ‘design’ the piece, but tried to allow expression to take precedence over formatting.
In terms of the watercolour element I assessed a few options, although I knew one of the main colours would be yellow – sunshine, happiness, positivity, strength, brightness, uplifting and mood enhancing. All qualities which came instantly to mind when envisioning Lucy. But I knew I also had to represent ‘the black’. Her dark place. Black didn’t feel right though. There’s no real blackness in Lucy, any dark places are just shadowed, less sunny elements of the yellow parts. Black implies a lack of colour, a lack of the qualities above, which isn’t right. Her dark parts are always colour underneath. Her soul, it seems to me, is made up of undulating waves, just colour and darker colour, no void, as black would suggest.
Dark blue seemed more appropriate. It captures the depth, of feeling and emotion; deep blue like a cool lake, beautiful and awe-inspiring but so deep that it retains an element of danger. It also reflects the light, rays of yellow sunshine passing through it and bouncing from it. Counteracting the darkness and revealing the depths. Without darkness there is no light, not one without the other. Both must exist in tandem. Ying and yang. Balance. The light is lighter than she thinks and the dark is not as dark as she fears.

 

Father

Where is my mind? The Pixies asked the ultimate question in that famous song. Where IS my mind? And what is in it when I delve a bit further than the initial surface of daily routine? I’ve recently been getting interesting results from using pen and watercolour sketching and a semi-meditative state to discover the answer to this question.

My first step on the path to even exploring this was starting a mindfulness course a few years ago. I have subsequently taken the same course 4 times and am now beginning to explore further the many varieties of meditative techniques. Even just a few months of daily basic mindfulness meditation has given me a taste of how it feels to explore my own consciousness. I’m already far less skeptical than when I started, and the idea of meditating in my room is actually more of an attractive prospect than going out on the town! The concept is so ridiculously simple and obvious, I’m almost ashamed I haven’t just always done it. It’s unbelievable that modern life is so overwhelming that we have to re-teach ourselves just to stop; to actually listen to our own bodies and minds. Ironically for such a self-obsessed society, we don’t actually take much notice of our true internal voice.

Through this regular meditation I’ve had a number of interesting experiences, often dream-focused. I find that when I meditate I almost immediately return to a recent dream, I can’t change anything, so its not what they call ‘lucid dreaming’, but I’m in it, I can walk around it and explore it, and I get the same feelings and emotions I had when i was having it. My dreams now are different, they feel more like experiences than dreams and give me a strange sense of having been somewhere.

Quite by chance, I recently started doodling when I was focused on other things, as a stress release. I found that letting my instinct guide me resulted in some interesting imagery. As soon as I started regulating myself – ‘don’t put that line there’ etc. the pictures were far more dull and without the sense of freedom they had encompassed before. I tried to go back to the other technique and found that I could utilise the relaxation part of the mindfulness practice, but without switching off completely. Let the pen guide itself and do exactly what it wants. Don’t limit it, don’t think about what might look good or bad; basically don’t allow your conscious mind to impose the very limiting boundaries which are born of external influence.

The result is these images. I see these as an early experimentation phase, what might grow from further practice at this technique is yet to be discovered. It’s the first time I have not had to labour at a piece of art, the first time I haven’t had to ‘try’, haven’t had to worry about the end result. Releasing myself of that anxiety allows me to truly enjoy the process and I think that probably comes through in the imagery.

All works are pen and watercolour on paper and are for sale.

Visit my profile at Art Market Direct to purchase.

muso.jpgpuffa-e1516621239581.jpgmannequin.jpg

I’ve been to Ramsgate many times, but as with all places, I see something new every time I visit. To see beyond the obvious facade of everyday life, its structures and its seeming banalities, to see the potential for beauty and impact, is, for me, the thrill of photography.

I snap, yes, to catch the moment of light, shadow, tone, or form. No set-up or pre-planning for me. But through considered editing and the push and pull of my limited knowledge of the tools at my disposal, I draw out what I knew was there before I could technically ‘see’ it. I hope you enjoy them!

These photos were taken with a Nikon D5100 / 18-140mm Nikon lens and edited with Adobe Photoshop

_DSC0133_2_DSC0071_DSC0062_DSC0066_DSC0067_DSC00752_DSC0127_DSC0111_DSC0106_DSC0121_DSC0083_DSC0079

 

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (4)

After a lengthy period in the proverbial pipeline, Dartford Arts Network’s Dartford Assembly project is finally seeing fruition, springing up over a mad 2 weeks and birthing from its project management cocoon a beautiful mass of visual art for public delectation.

Conceived nearly two years ago, the central aim of the project was initially to kill two very significant birds with one stone: to provide a vehicle through which local artists could publicly display their artworks in the town, and to deliver a project which greatly enhanced the aesthetics of Lowfield Street in Dartford (which has been boarded up with hoardings for over a decade) for the general public.

Dartford Arts Network (the local arts network which I co-founded and of which I am Chair) was still in its early inception stages at that point and learning how to produce such a major project as we went along was a huge hurdle to overcome. Thankfully, we received some financial support from the council to make the project happen, but the logistical planning was immense; the time spent on design, artist liaison, landowner and council consultation, material production and site planning was overwhelming. All this was produced with a small group of local artist volunteers, each of whom was trying to (variously); do their day job, have babies, raise babies, have a life and do their own artwork. To say we are incredibly proud of, and grateful to, everyone who contributed, is an understatement.

13 individual artists contributed, as well as art students at North West Kent College, children at The Bridge Primary Community School, and 10 members of the public who produced collage and monoprint works at the public workshops we held last summer at One Bell Corner.

We have had overwhelmingly positive responses from the public, who are generally delighted to see such a wide variety of local art on public display.

I hold a firm belief in the power of art; as regenerator, motivator, and as inspirer. To lift the spirit of a community and create a sense of belief and communal optimism takes more than just physical rebuilding or looking backwards to what once was. It takes beauty and reflection; it takes recognising how much (sometimes unseen) talent and potential is already present in the area and how those resources can be nurtured and used alongside retail and development to draw interest to our town.

This is the first major public art exhibition in Dartford and I am confident it is only the beginning.

Our next project – Plastic Fantastic – is already underway. After winning a grant from Ellandi, the owners of the Priory Centre, to produce a sculpture for the community addressing the issues of sustainability and plastic waste, we will be holding workshops in September to encourage members of the public to contribute to the construction and design. See our website for more details on the project and how to get involved.

Contact us at @dartfordarts / hello@darfordartsnetwork.com / www.dartfordartsnetwork.com

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (6)(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (5)

(c) Matt Fox Photography (2)

(c) Matt Fox Photography

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography (2)

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (7)

(c) Matt Fox Photography (3)

(c) Matt Fox Photography

(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (2)(c) Kate Withstandley Photography (1)

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Jeremy Moseley Photography

(c) Matt Fox Photography (1)

(c) Matt Fox Photography