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17 December 2013

Wrapping up SAW

I am in danger of giving away secrets with the writing of this blog...

Christmas approaches and it's time to start wrapping presents. I am hoping that many of you like me, are maybe, just maybe wrapping some art, more specifically art that you bought during SAW 2013.

It's a tricky one buying an object based so strongly on personal taste to give as a gift. Perhaps it was made easier by the recipient dropping big hints when you visited a particular exhibition or you just got that instinctive gut feeling that they would love the print, painting or sculpture the second you saw it - as if it was commissioned unwittingly for them. 

As a family we have always bought presents whilst on our holidays or special days out and wrapping a gift I purchased back in September is like wrapping up a little piece of that early Autumn sunshine and even some of that rain we had during this year's festival. The memories are so intrinsic to the gift given.

Christmas is a time when we all naturally look back over the past year, remember and plan ahead. Maybe this is the year that you, inspired by the artists that you visited in 2013, take the bold step of actually opening your studio in 2014. September maybe a way off but now is the perfect opportunity to become a member of SAW in time to register your open studio before the deadline on the 31st March. You can find all the details that you require here.

During this year's festival artist Fiona Winning captured sound snippets of visitors experiences at varying venues. Have a listen, see if you can guess the venue or the artist, do they portray your memory, evoke others or prompt you to be more involved?

I have some wonderful, creative memories of the past year, I hope you have too. We are so busy living in the now that we often tend to forget all too quickly and are constantly looking to what has to be achieved next and ticked off. I like to think that Artweek helps us slow down a little, look deeper and see the artists' shared vision with our own eyes - that a creative connection is made, remembered and planned to be part our future year.

Here's wishing you a wonderful Christmas that surprises you with...

Teasing Tag harvested from the Apple Tree at Westcott farm at the end of SAW 2013  

12 November 2013

Missing Your Art Fix?

Did you enjoy the SAW Festival this year? I truly hope so, there was just so much crammed into those all too short but incredibly art intensive weeks. Some of you may now feel that you are missing the connection that you made with the Somerset art scene and are keen to reconnect with what's going on in the here and now. Many of you will no doubt have signed artists' visitor books requesting to keep in touch with your favourite venues. Another great way to keep in touch is by becoming a patron of the arts, particularly the Somerset arts, by becoming a Friend of SAW. 

We are all aware that funding for the arts is forever dwindling but also aware of how important the arts play in our sense of well being and mental health. The staggering array and rich diversity of art exhibited at Taunton's Musgrove Park hospital is testament to this understanding. 

By becoming a Friend of SAW your yearly membership fee will go towards training for emerging artists, as well as sponsoring projects and works of art. Your help can nurture excellence from within the visual arts of Somerset and really make a difference. It can be very difficult for graduating artists to continue working within the arts once they have left the support network of an educational environment. They are suddenly isolated, may have student debts to pay and loose the workshops they previously had access to - making any first commissions they may receive sometimes impossible to fulfill.

All the artists involved in this year's Abundance Garden Trail were recent graduates that SAW was able to nurture, encourage and most importantly fund. They certainly presented some truly inspiring and professional installations which will now lend credence to their own personal future projects. SAW has helped provide a strong foundation on which they may now hopefully build firm careers in the art world. Who knows in ten, twenty years time one of the Abundance artists may be delivering the Reith Lectures...

As a friend of SAW you will receive regular newsletters and invitations to private views; keeping you connected with the Somerset art scene throughout the year. Earlier this month members were able to join the Firewalk at Westcott Farm which despite the awful weather the organisers managed to capture some amazing images. A second Firewalk is planned for next Spring when hopefully the weather will be kinder and once again Friends of SAW will be able to attend.

Each year you will also be invited to the Festival's prestigious launch party and of course you will receive a copy of the Somerset Art Weeks Guide hot off the press.

Friends are also entered into a quarterly Prize Draw to win an original artwork by one of our SAW artist members. Recent winners were invited to Aller Farm Gardens to not only join in the celebrations to mark Leah Hislop completing her Labyrinth but also to be presented with their stunning prize generously donated by printmaker Sue Lowe.  

So how much does it cost to be a patron of the Somerset arts? 

Individual membership is as little as £25 for a year or £60 if you sign up for three years. Joint membership (two adults living at the same address) is available at £35 per year or £85 for three years. If you are already a SAW Member but feel you would also like to support the friends scheme then the fee is £20 a year or £50. Perhaps you belong to a group or organisation that supports the arts, then the cost is £40 per year or £100 for the three.

So what are you waiting for? Becoming a Friend is easy..

Just download and complete the application form from the SAW website here
or e mail Stephanie at the SAW office

22 October 2013

The Last Walk at Westcott

This month has certainly been one of contrasts, it has been so wet and dark today that it seems quite unbelievable that only two weeks ago we were ambling in glorious sunshine in the landscape of Westcott Farm.

On the final Saturday of this year's SAW Festival Lyn Mowat had invited the public to walk at  Westcott and experience the landscape that had inspired the work exhibited at the farm. 

It would seem that many of the artists who had been involved in other venues had heard the 'buzz' about Westcott and had taken the opportunity to come and see what all the fuss was about and so in reality it evolved into another 'Artists Walk.' This time however the warmer weather was certainly more conducive to actually stopping and sketching and all ages became engrossed in capturing their take of the scenery. 

Artist Dermot Trimble (pictured above) had travelled from London especially to participate. He explained that he usually painted portraits, so sketching landscapes was a break from form and hence pushes your creative output. It was also good experience walking and working quickly. One either tends to go for a walk or go out to sketch, which usually means finding a spot and staying put for a while. And so the walk turned into a speed sketching lesson, a technique that tutors of life drawing classes often employ. We didn't try the one where you draw with your eyes closed!

Not all had come prepared to sketch, but paper and pencils were soon shared around 'loaves and fishes' style. Artist Andy Davey produced the most well used and loved pencil from his pocket, explaining the shortness of length allowed for far more freedom and expressive gestures, rather like working with a piece of charcoal. He also went on to explain that one of his teachers had insisted that his students new pencils were immediately divided into a least four for this very reason.

While some sketched , others just enjoyed being in the space, under the big sky..

It was then time to head back and a chance to view the work on show back at base. The artists were on hand to discuss their work and there was even a little buying flurry. Some went home excited and happy with their purchases. Sadly others left disappointed, as in the short time they had dithered about making a purchase others had swept in and taken the decision away from them.

All in all it was a very pleasant, productive afternoon and I hope that  there will be many more Artists Walks as part of SAW 2014.

If you have enjoyed this post you may also like reading about our earlier Winter and Spring outings on the farm here.

11 October 2013

Blaze of Glory

The SAW festival is over for another year, the exhibitions are closed to the public but those directly involved are still busy behind the scenes. Now is the time for the shows to be dismantled, to begin focusing on future projects, for many a chance to get the much missed paint brushes out after two weeks busy stewarding. I hope that you were able to enjoy the abundance of creativity that was available locally on your doorstop and had the opportunity to get out and about. I hear many people lament that they only wish they had more time to view everything that was going on - me being one of them!

Artist Leah Hislop took a slightly different approach to her art weeks and particularly her installation for the Abundance Garden Trail.  Her Labyrinth took shape over the two week period, providing visitors a valuable insight into the work that goes into creating such a large scale structure plus the obvious opportunity to meet with the artist first hand. Once her installation was finally finished it was only to be seen in it's completed glory on the last day of the festival. Some may feel a little disappointed by this, only a fleeting moment to catch a view of this transient sculpture, but what a glorious day to end on. The garden at Aller farmhouse was a blaze of yellow, orange and red in the unexpected warmth of the autumn sunshine, the colour not shouting from the garden's borders but from Leah's woven Labyrinth. 

I arrived early on the Sunday morning to help set up for the Friends of Saw private view and had the joy of experiencing Leah's Labyrinth selfishly to myself. The farm and gardens looked incredibly beguiling, with red brick outbuildings, old oak doors and located in one of those little pockets of West Somerset that feel like France. The light was also amazing and highlighted the long lengths of spider web that were being caught on the soft breeze - quite apt I thought considering the thought processes behind Leah's work. 

The guests slowly arrived and it would seem that all generations took pleasure in not just viewing but stepping inside the Labyrinth. Some were a little tentative in their approach,  unsure how they would escape from the web. Others, particularly the children  relished in running and leaping their way through.

Leah explained that she was very taken by how the human figure was 'lost' in the layers as they ventured deeper within, she also realised that inadvertently the layout of the labyrinth had mimicked the layout of the paths and gardens at Aller. I loved the fact that throughout the entire time Leah was at the private view a length of yellow spun wool did not leave her hands.

The bright sunshine of Sunday was a striking contrast to many of the dark days Leah had worked through to complete her task, enduring heavy rain showers and even thunder as part of her creative journey - a journey from dark to light almost mirroring that of her sculpture. 

You may enjoy reading her progress at the Abundance Blog by clicking here

Now I was under the impression all the SAW venue doors were closed for another year but no you still have an opportunity to visit Make the Most at Barrington Court which is open until the 31st October - so there is plenty more time to get your fix of Somerset art. Plus many of the artists involved with SAW will no doubt be exhibiting in the near future. A great way to keep up to date with many of these events is by signing up for the SAW newsletter, by joining the Friends of SAW and of course by signing up to receive regular updates from the SAW Blog by entering your details in the 'follow by e mail box' to the top right of this page. 

My next posting will be a reflection on the Last Walk at Westcott....

3 October 2013

Interactive Art at Venue 28

Now I have been quite closely involved following the preparations that have gone into creating Venue 28 at Westcott Farm. I attended two of the Artists Walks that Lyn Mowat organised back in the Spring, also my partner Christopher has created one of the venue's installations.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the venue as just that, a visitor and although I had met the majority of artists involved that would be exhibiting at the farm I didn't have full knowledge of all their styles or practice and so I was greeted with a very pleasant surprise. 

The outbuildings were all dusted down, spider free and well swept creating excellent spaces to display work. Sue Lowe's collagraph  prints welcome you as you enter the main barn and they look stunning on the soft red brick wall. The room also features a collection of landscapes by Peter Messa, Veronica Clegg and Annabel Gaitskill Anderson; their individual style and use of colour surprisingly complementary.

Lucy Lean had been busy collecting mud but I had no idea quite what she was creating. Her installation is suspended from soft time worn beams, the round discs made from Westcott mole mud and soot hung on lengths of roughly spun wool - the concept being that this structure taken and formed from the landscape it now sits it can be returned to the land and earth leaving no trace.

Next to Lucy's installation are vibrant paintings by Micaela Beckett and Elizabeth Edenborough's sensitive studies of light. 

Lyn's studio is also open, we only got to peer through the window previously and her sculptures and paintings are literally dancing with life.

So where is the interactive art on the farm? 

Head away from the barns, follow the yellow bunting and little yellow arrows and you will be led to the orchard. Here Christopher has mown a Labyrinth for you to follow but before you do so you must select a Teasing Tag from the metal trunk and follow it's prompt as you walk the path. When you reach the central tree tie your card with your answer on the tree.  I spoke with one visitor whose card had instructed her to write a poem as she walked the path. The initial response was there is no way she could just conjure up a poem from thin air, but to her great astonishment and satisfaction her poem is now hanging from the branches of the apple tree!

Along the path of the labyrinth and as you approach the orchard, Gordon Field has installed his tree aura viewing boxes. Over the course of the two weeks Gordon has dowsed and then mapped the energy fields of particular trees that can be found within the Westcott landscape, two are in the orchard, the others can be viewed across the valley.

Gordon discovered his skill for dowsing over four years ago. He now offers workshops so that others may also connect with trees. The workshops take place at Otterhead near Taunton and the cost is £30 per person, the next available dates are the 13th and 27th October. So if his art installation here inspire you why not give it a go?

We spent a surprising two hours enjoying and participating with all the work on display at Westcott. I would highly recommend a visit, I know the weather has been wet of late, take a brolly to walk the labyrinth and maybe wear some wellies, my toes did get a little damp in the long wet grass.

The prints and paintings on display are naturally all for sale. The installations however have all been created by the artists with no outside financial backing and have been created purely for of the joy of art for arts sake; for you to enjoy also and maybe in the knowledge that other projects naturally lead on from such energy and creativity. It is wonderful that the owners of Westcott Farm, Lyn and Magnus Mowat enabled this group of Somerset artists to come play in the landscape at Brompton Ralph.

The end result is very uplifting and that is surely how you wish to feel after leaving an exhibition which is part of SAW.

1 October 2013

On The Road Day Two

For this outing of SAW Venues I headed to Taunton with the aim of heading westwards, homeward bound, the first port of call being Venue 33 - Five @107.

Artist and writer Jo Backhouse had allowed the use of her home for this exhibition which had received a coat of white paint in the downstairs interior especially. Jo was there to welcome visitors and I commented on how the open invitation to their private view, printed in the SAW brochure, was a brave move considering the personal location for the exhibition. Jo explained that this had not been the original intention but previous plans had fallen through so some aspects of their entry had been amended but not others! Despite this Jo said they were not over run with unruly house guests and the evening had gone remarkably well.

Whilst taking the image above I hadn't realised but Jo was reading the SAW blog, which I suppose is only fair as I was looking at her work too! You may read her writers blog here

 Jessica Palmer 
The exhibition also features work by John Crabb, Jessica Palmer, Lorna Siviter and Tom Lindsey and is now open every day from 11am until 4pm - do pop in if you pass their welcoming font door.

The next venue on my route was to be in Milverton but I spotted a yellow sign en route and called into Venue 32 - The Chapel. I must admit the artists here were struggling with the space, although a beautiful building the hanging system wasn't great, it was very dark and they openly admitted they needed more light. The exhibition included work by  Alexandra Lavizzari, Sue Gutteridge, Kate Elford and Beth Philpot.

 Beth Philpot

Potter Raamy Nadim, from Wellington, was also showcasing his colourful and functional stoneware, perfect for slow cooking stews this coming Autumn, I loved the choice of styles and glazes available.

Time to head on to Venue 29 which could catch you out when planning your day as it opens late at 1pm, although is open until 6pm. Now some venues feel just right when you walk in, they some up for me the essence of art week and this is one of them - a great mix of work from five different artists I could have quite happily moved in!

Featuring work by Sally Mears, Penny Price, Naoko Takata, Louise Waugh and Judy Willoughby you will be spoilt for choice if you are looking for work to adorn your home. They also have a delightful art garden where you may enjoy tea and cake.

Venue 27 in Crowcombe was next. Now I have a personal soft spot for Church House as it was where we held our wedding reception, so any excuse to visit is always a bonus. It's a great space in which to exhibit as the custodians of this village resource have invested in a professional hanging system and good lighting. Showcasing their work for this year's art week were Janet Lawrence, Helen Simpson, Myra Barratt and David Chadwick. Janet was busy in between visitors demonstrating the technique of watercolour painting, in contrast her atmospheric tree canvases were also on display.

My day then unfortunately had to be cut short as it was time to collect a small boy from school. I had planned to call into Venue 11 and then onto Porlock for Venue 22, which is rather out on a limb as it is the Venue furthest west on the SAW map. The weir is always an enigmatic place to visit especially when you can catch the waft of wood smoke on the air and hopefully you will have a longer day to explore.


29 September 2013

The Horn of Plenty

We didn't drive straight home to dream of Corvids...

Our energies restored after tea and cake at the Seven Sisters we headed to see Gillian and the Horn of Plenty at Little Yarford Farmhouse. Dilly Bradley, owner of the garden and also one of the key organisers when it came to finding suitable gardens when planning the Abundance Garden Trail, had organised a special preview of Gillian's Installation to raise money for the National Gardens Scheme.

Dilly explained that it had been quite a task, when alongside SAW's Carol Carey and Zoe Li, they had visited various NGS gardens in the early spring scouting possible locations. They had to choose venues that would still provide a 'hotrticultural display' in September, appealing to visitors whose main interest would be in viewing the garden as well as the Abundance Art. It will be interesting to know at the end of the exhibition what has been the main draw for visitors - art or garden, garden or art?

Gillian was pretty exhausted, it had been a tight deadline finishing the Horn of Plenty, working to any deadline is tiring mentally and physically and it takes awhile to be able to relax, step back and take stock that an all consuming project is finally complete. Gillian's progress was closely tied in with nature. The reeds that she used could not be harvested until the nesting season had finished, due to the unusually cold Spring this had been later than normal. Expecting to harvest them in mid august this transpired into late August early September...

To follow Gillian's project in more detail do visit her Abundance blog here.

On entering the garden the installation is not directly visible. When you do approach it, it can be seen from across one of the garden's three ponds, sitting on the Tump, you then need to venture through a 'woodland' track before you can view close to.

From a distance the scale can be quite misleading - once close up I loved the colour and contrast of texture.

Dilly had also found her artistic side; although to be a gardener surely this is already inbuilt. Around the garden there were small displays of abundance and harvest. Piles of apples, wonderful squashes and these blackberries delicately balanced amongst the rose hips - a small, secret detail that could so easily have been missed but a joy to discover.

Gillian welcomed guests and explained the thought process and construction of her Abundance installation and of course the question arose as to why is it empty? 

From the very beginning Gillian had planned not to fill the void, however when nearing completion she had been tempted to fill it but decided to stick to her original intentions. The black void symbolising how we live in such abundant times. We live in a society where we can eat Christmas dinner any day of the year, we have grown  blasé about seasonal fruit and vegetables when they are available all year from our supermarkets and sadly often neglect to harvest the apples that may grow in our own gardens...

The garden at Little Yarford Farmhouse is open this Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 11am and 5pm and is SAW Venue 34. There is an admission fee of £4.00, children are free.

Now did we all listen and pay attention to the message from the horn?

25 September 2013

On The Road

Our SAW venue was closed on Sunday which gave us the perfect opportunity to go exploring, so with map and brochure in hand we headed Chard way...

The first exhibition we called into was that of the Blackdown Hills Artists and Makers, BHAMM, at Cotley Tithe Barn. 'Skills Unearthed' explores the crafts and industry of the Blackdown Hills, for some of the artists involved this marks the end of a two year project and they have drawn inspiration from themes as diverse as corn dolly making to the World War Two airfields nearby. 

This is an exhibition that requires the visitor to invest a little time in drawing out and understanding the history, background and research that has gone into the final work. I was particularly intrigued to visit having followed Gillian Widden's progress with her teasel sculpture and wished to see the finished structure in situ, you can read more about her project on an earlier post here

Alongside sculpture there is weaving, film making, photography and sound installations - a good mix of media. Ruth Bell's dance and film piece Sky Dancing explores the history and character of Dunkeswell, based on interviews of people who remember the dances at the airfields during WW2, the film brings their memories to life alongside conversations with current skydivers and pilots.

On Friday 4th October at 7pm there will be a dance performance by Ruth followed by Jive lessons so you too can have a go and take your own memories home of dancing in the Blackdowns.

Those that live and have lived in the area will no doubt resonate with the history that these projects celebrate and remember, and will hopefully leave with an enhanced outlook on their familiar local landscape. It is poignant that these memories have been captured before they truly disappear. The black and white portraits of the surviving American war veterans who were based on the airfields nearby are not sweetly nostalgic but quite disturbing and beguiling. It is a fitting reminder not to take people at face value - it is all too easy to dismiss a stranger's story filled past and realise that we must converse more to truly understand and appreciate the person within.

This is thought provoking exhibition by a professional group of artists and well worth a visit.

It was time to head on to our next port of call, Venue 67, Corvids at the Jackdaw Studio, so we followed red signs and yellow signs and were delighted to find a marvellous pub for Sunday lunch!

Tummies full, the flock of birds outside welcomed us to The Jackdaw Gallery, their poetic entry in the SAW brochure had stood out in the listings and I too am fascinated by these intelligent birds.

Cruciform against blue skies, soaring and tumbling, silent, raucous, always here or there, coming and going: crows, jackdaws, jays, magpies, rooks and ravens command attention and demand representation. As a group of five artists we celebrate the sound, sight, image, texture, and movement, shape, and character of these paradoxically ubiquitous but enigmatic birds. 

The gallery was small but perfectly formed and we spent a while appreciating the wok on display. The mix of ceramics, collage, painting and photography worked well with the theme gelling it all together. There was also a selection of Hilary Dixon's poetry and novels for sale and it had been her words published in the SAW guide that prompted our visit and we were pleased we had.

Unfortunately we were unable to make a larger purchase from The Jackdaw Gallery as there was no magic PDQ machine available. We didn't have enough cash between us and it is rare these days to carry a cheque book. So be prepared and do pack a cheque book so that you can make some pleasing impulse buys whilst on your art week travels as many of the venues will not have card payment facilities due to their temporary nature.

On the way home we saw more yellow signs tempting us down unknown lanes but they would have to wait for another day, it was time to head home and dream of Corvids.

En route this bus stop grabbed our attention and we just had to turn around, stop and take a picture, it's nothing to do with SAW 2013 that I know of, situated not far from the Holman Clavel can anyone explain it's origin? 

23 September 2013

The Abundant Feast

A celebration of all that is abundant in our county during the SAW Festival was celebrated on Friday at East Lambrook Manor Gardens, a celebration not only of all the art that is on show at present but the natural harvest of plentiful food currently ripe for the picking. Whilst seeking out those yellow signs you must surely have also noticed the rich crop of apples and the over sized chestnuts resembling woollen pompoms that line the Somerset lanes this September.

Now most private views offer their guest a drink with nibbles but this evening's offering was a true feast, an art performance for the taste buds. Artist Tasha Tucker - Vallecillo and professional chef Damon Palmer had collaborated to create a 'micro-tester' menu exploring a sustainable food supply. This meant that the majority of the menu was fabulously fresh, seasonal native produce - we were also informed that over 90% of the food was also prepared by hand without the use of fossil fuels.

 Artist Tasha Tucker- Vallecillo

On arrival at the gardens we were presented with the evening's menu which heralded a little foreboding with the words - 'You are likely to find some parts of this challenging, some informative and hopefully some enjoyable.'

The Menu

1.Plum and Apple Cider
Naturally fizzy and made with wild yeast

2. Wild Leaf, Mushroom & Seaweed Pocket
Made with Bladderwrack Seaweed from Dorset
wrapped in Tree Spinache 

3. Savoury Wild Seed Biscuit, Garlic Sauerkraut, no sugar
Plum Jam with Local Game
Made from Wild Plantain Seed and 
Elephant Organic Garlic

4. English Berry Apple Juice & Seabuckthorn
Health Tonic Fruit Cocktails

5. Fruit Leather & Raw Cheese Roulade
Fruit leather made with organic Raspberries &
Plums dried for 8 - 10 hours
Raw Cheese made from un-pasteurised milk.

The Plum and Apple Cider

 Meticulous preparations

The evening's organiser and Abundance X Curator  SAW's Zoe Li

The evening was very relaxed, the food was a wonderful topic of conversation as guests mingled and viewed the displays that Tasha had created to explain about the foraging, preserving and production processes involved in eating sustainably. To view some of Tasha's ideas and planning for the evening's feast do take a look at the SAW Abundance Blog.

Alongside enjoying the feast the evening was also a chance to view Abundance X Venue 61 and part of the Abundance Garden Trail. Organised by SAW's Zoe Li the exhibition is naturally all about gardens and features the following artists

Laura Pearcey
Chris Dunseath
Judy Willoughby
Emma Riley
Nadja McDevitt
Jan Ollis
Rachel Waldock
Sue Lowe
Margaret Wall
Linda Bristow

All the work is available to purchase and the commission from sales will be donated to the National Gardens Scheme.

 Judy Willoughby

Chris Dunseath

I realise there are many venues to visit during SAW, however this one may inspire you to harvest some of that fruit currently adorning the hedgerows and make some jam that can be enjoyed on a cold winter day - invigorating your culinary skills if pencil or paintbrush are not for you!