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28 February 2013

Pop up Venues.

The original plan for this post was to focus on Pop up Venues and empty shops...

But I cannot write a blog without acknowledging what a devastating hole the closure of Taunton's Brewhouse Theatre will leave within Somerset's creative community. Natalie has written here many times about exhibitions visited, community projects and her own involvement with the venue. Hers and Michael Fairfax's Snout and About project was, still is hopefully, a fund raiser for the venue. Many of you reading this will have attended a performance over the years, maybe even stepped onto it's stage or hung art on it's walls. My only hope is that 'someone' will recognise this incredible sense of worth, and the administrators find new custodians to carry on with the show. It will be a sorry, reflective picture if an asset such as this, is left to languish and be boarded up in the centre of our county town.

The sight of empty shops on our high streets is sadly becoming all too familiar - however some towns and individuals are turning a negative into a hopeful positive. Minehead's Chamber of commerce realises how detrimental empty shops can be to the outlook of the community and those who visit the town. If a place feels like it has no soul, is neglected and empty, people will turn away to find a destination that fulfills their needs and head to a town with more bustle and trading shops. So how has Minehead attempted to tackle this issue? Well a few windows now display large prints depicting local beauty spots painted by Leo Davey. He has a very distinct style and his paintings encapsulate early 20th Century travel posters. The scenes are very welcome as they remind us of the stunning landscape that surrounds this little seaside town, plus nudges tourists to other potential days out.

Another artist with strong Minehead roots is Pembrokeshire based, Julia Rees, her family still live in Minehead and when one of their business premises recently became vacant, rather than leave it empty and neglected, Julia has filled it with her prints and textiles. 

So these empty shops and buildings do have potential for artists who at more affluent times would not be able to afford such rents and rates. Some landlords do realise the benefit of having a temporary tenant rather than an empty shop, they are out there, you just need to knock on doors and approach them with your idea. You will discover though that in some larger towns and cities many of these empty premises are held by property portfolios and they will naturally be that much harder -  if not practically impossible to contact. 

Julia Rees
Long before the phrase 'pop up' was used to describe such ventures Chris and I organised an exhibition in the centre of York. The owner allowed us to use his empty premises for six weeks. The venue was quite daunting and surprisingly large. We worked hard painting the walls and clearing rubbish. Located on a prime corner plot, the immense windows took a huge amount of effort to clean; however the light they let in was much needed as there was no electricity. The exhibition proved to be a success and gave us the confidence to organise future events. 

With any venture like this you need to have an amicable agreement with the land lord. Due to the current circumstances, many smaller business premises are rate free at present, but do obviously check this. Also if you plan to welcome visitors you will need public liability insurance. It may be that you find a shop window to simply display your work, create attention and promote your website. If you do decide to do this it is incredibly important to keep it looking clean and fresh, free from spiders and dead flies - because a sorry looking, faded display will not bring you custom or add the vibrancy that was initially wished for. 

So if you are sussing out venues for the forthcoming art week or just generally seeking out alternative venues to exhibit your work then this may be the cheaper option to hiring a village hall or gallery space? 

From a need, artists throughout history have always sought out the less expensive areas to live and work, creating vibrant communities that then draw those with more money who wish to share this 'fashionable' lifestyle, these areas over time often become incredibly expensive to live in and the new emerging artists then need to seek out the next place that will grow and thrive - the trick is knowing where that is going to be. It's not something that can always be invigorated by funding, but one that needs to happen 'naturally' - it's knowing where, when and how to catch that wave...

Going back to the unknown future of the Brewhouse, my hope is that if it is unable to reopen, then art initiatives like the incredible Take Art will benefit and grow, bringing more performances and concerts to those of us out in the sticks - otherwise it is going to be a long drive for some to visit the theatres in Exeter, Bristol and Bath, and for many that is completely unrealistic.

These are times of uncertainty, our catchphrase or mantra at home to help get through them has been, 'Art will save us!' 

Culture matters!

21 February 2013

Art On The Farm

It was one of the first bright days of the year, blue sky and incredibly welcome sunshine. The drive along the narrow, muddy roads was quite misty and we feared getting lost in the warren of high hedged lanes that distinctly shape this area of Somerset. Brazenly we had left the detailed directions at home and had decided to rely on our memory and natural inbuilt 'navigation system'. We had visited Westcott Farm before, many years ago, when the metal cowsheds and rustic barns were transformed into galleries for the then young 10 Parishes Festival. On that occasion we were presented with an installation of a rather unconventional and inedible feast. There is also a vague memory of a rusty metal chain and large hook suspending 'something' that was drip, drip, dripping 'blood', all in the name of art of course, and still today there are more permanent reminders of past open studios at the farm.

SAW artist, Lyn Mowat and her husband, are keen to make Westcott Farm an artistic hub for this year's forthcoming art weeks and would like to see the landscape and outbuildings filled with creativity. The reason for our visit was to attend one of three art walks that Lyn had organised, inviting fellow West Somerset SAW members, particularly those whose practise takes inspiration from the landscape. Did the farm have the potential to be reflected in their work and be their chosen venue for 2013? If artists were enthused by the day's walk they could then select to work as an individual or in a group. The format at present is loose so as not to restrict the creative process and any artistic decision making. 

Walking with others who 'look' with a design eye is a reassuring pleasure, you are not alone in gaining visual joy in seeing shape, form, texture and pattern in the terrain, foliage and shadows that you encounter. We all got quite captivated by a repetitive line of fleece that had snagged along a particularly long stretch of barbed wire fencing; the way it  caught the sunlight filtered by the mist was quite alluring.


The mist cleared and we returned in glorious, stark, winter sunshine. On route Lyn had made use of the extra manpower to hand and we helped herd the pregnant ewes to a field closer to the main house; she joked that this was the true reason for our visit. Once back to the yard we took it in turns to hose down our oh, so muddy boots and headed inside where there was hot soup waiting and a chance to discuss any initial ideas and possibilities. 

There are a surprising amount of out buildings at Westcott Farm, that with very little imagination, a good sweep and a fresh lick of whitewash will make fantastic exhibition spaces. Most have lighting, one even has a 'stage' with large picture windows letting in heaps of natural light. There are bone shaped beams awaiting hanging installations and perhaps for the more edgy, urban artist there is of course the huge cattle sheds with their distinctive metal walls and bars - the cows of course will be out summer grazing.

A third walk is planned for early March and soon Lyn will know who is keen to be part of Westcott 2013. Those that do decide to embrace this opportunity are free to visit the farm throughout the spring and summer months to sketch, paint, photograph, sculpt and create to their hearts content. Do contact Lyn if you too would like to take part, there may still be room, however the venue is limited to ten artists exhibiting.

I look forward to returning in the Autumn to see how this huge canvas of a farm will be transformed, and of course those winding lanes will not prove a puzzle as the distinctive yellow SAW signs will lead you directly to your art adventure. 

7 February 2013

iPad - Your New Sketch Book?

It's so easy to be lazy when you buy new tech. Many of us barely scrape the surface of the many functions that our gadgets offer these days. If you have treated yourself to an iPad, surely you need it to work for you, earn it's place in your everyday life, and not merely as an expensive way to access your e mails, browse the net or while away the hours on face farce!

We are well aware of the drawing capabilities iPad offers, David Hockney, true to form embraced this new technology and has already made a bold, lasting statement - one that insured that drawing with this new medium was truly recognised by the art world. I remember many years ago when we merely suggested and played with the idea of designing textile prints on computers, some of the more seasoned designers scoffed that nothing would replace paper designs...  

So how do you make your iPad your indispensable sketch book, your first instinctive port of call for quickly getting those bursts of inspiration down? 

At home we have made ours instantly feel like a sketch book by providing it with a soft leather cover, it even has the wide fabric elastic band, like  a 'real' sketchbook. It now feels right and the fact it looks more traditional makes it more inviting; not  merely a cold, soulless, white appliance.

You also need to find the right App that suits you; many feel like you are drawing with a fat finger and frustratingly unwieldy. Our favourite has to be Paper 53, I'm still relatively new to it but as soon as I first used it, it felt intuitively right - the weight of the line it drew looked aesthetically pleasing straight away. Smudging and blending the colours feels familiar and instinctive, truly like working with pastels. I have just downloaded an extra element which enables you to mix colours and add to what was originally a very limited palette.

I am yet to purchase a stylus, and there are some great ones available now, but at present I need to experiment more before I justify the added expense. I know some are not too pricey but this website has some great reviews on what is available; satisfyingly they are now starting to resemble an expensive pen but surprisingly one is literally a paint brush. In the meantime Christopher has been experimenting and discovered a silver salt spoon that works like a stylus! 

The way you can set up individual sketchbooks within the app is alluring and you can personalise the cover of each one to suit your project. The effect of the pages turning is also a dream! Like any new medium or artistic process you need to invest time and 'play', learning how to make it work for you and get it to successfully project your artistic personality. The same is true of a traditional sketch book, there has to be some discipline before the results shine through. 

If this has inspired you to get more from your iPad, SAW artist Alison Jacobs is running classes for beginners. The first is on the 10th February in Watchet, don't worry, I know this may be short notice for some but there are sessions later in the month - see the poster below. 

Alison is keen to take sketching out doors so be prepared to wrap up warm and capture some landscapes under her guidance. The day course costs £35, you need to bring your own iPad and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. 

Alison also advises that prior to attending the session you download either 'Brushes' or 'Paper' apps. A stylus is recommended but not essential. These courses promise to be informative and a chance to meet some like minded individuals curious to make their iPad their new sketch book - not just a handy place to write your shopping list.

Dates, times and further details can be found on Alison's website 

If you do go along to one of Alison's classes or have already been experimenting with the drawing abilities of your iPad do let us know your thoughts and doodles.