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1st November 2020 – 1st December 2020

The Three of Us

Artists in THEIR Residence: A Virtual Project

Each summer The Wilson invites artists into the museum to take over a gallery, as an artist in residence. This year, we felt it was more important than ever to give 6 local artists a platform to exhibit their work and engage with local audiences. We have revised the traditional format for the residencies so they can take place safely from the artist’s home or studio, yet still have a presence within the gallery when The Wilson reopens in 2021, in the form of a group show.

Meet Artist in THEIR Residence Number 1: The Three of Us

Rob Mackie’s practice emerges out of the reuse of materials that are deliberately useful and yet affirmatively useless. The subject of his work is quite simply the creative process. Humour is a vital ingredient of what he does, “I feel my work laughs at itself as well as the viewer“. His practice is not only a process of transformation and a process of exchange, but exchange as transformation, as laughter, as conversation between artists, between materials, and between him and the world. His work can be bombastic as well as poignant in the first instance before he dismantles it and goes on to reassemble it in reassertions of itself. Rob places little significance on art objects because like David Mach, he feels there are too many in the world already.

Ally Goff’s art practice is based around the circle of life and human experiences. Her work is personal and often emotionally driven, incorporating universal themes such as birth, death, nature and nurture. Recurrent themes include the female form and its metaphysical changes, as well as the ageing process. Through her mixed media work, Ally’s art is process driven with the emphasis upon relationship with the materials. Ally seeks out malleable and tactile materials that she can use to represent human conditions and emotions. By distressing or exposing her work to the natural elements she is then able to illustrate a connection with nature whilst depicting the passage of time. In addition to her experimental development she has also undertaken work on a number of community-based arts projects.

Emily Lawlor is a professional artist. For over two decades, Emily has worked on site specific public art commissions, in and around London and the South West. Working with diverse community groups over the past twenty years, Emily has seen at first-hand how creative arts can have a significant positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Over the past two years, Emily has run the Creative Therapies at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Hospice in Cheltenham. She believes that utilising the power of creative arts within palliative care is integral to creating meaning and value in a patient’s life and to supporting the ethos of ‘living well’. In her studio practice, Emily is inspired by birds – fascinated by wings, feathers and flight.

 

Introduction to our residency

Each one of us as individual practising artists has personal experience of the power of art to contribute to mental and physical wellbeing and this connection has been the driving force behind our collaboration. We each have each seen at first-hand how creativity can create meaning and value in people’s lives. Through working with a wide variety of groups both in healthcare environments such as hospitals and hospices and the wider community, we have witnessed how creativity can enhance social relationships, particularly with those experiencing isolation.

 

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Between the three of us, we share skills in working in different mediums including clay, mosaic, painting and drawing. Whilst discussing our intentions at the start of the project, we identified that the unifying theme running through all our ideas was that of SURVIVAL, a basic human instinct and something we have all had to confront and deal with during these unprecedented times of the pandemic. Within this overall theme, we also intend to examine the idea of fragility and our ability to heal and transform. We want to explore the idea of creating a lifeline through art, examining the themes of survival, safety, and vulnerability through our creativity, using different media, drawing on our different skills and including survival blankets and clay.

 

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At the culmination of our collaboration as three artists, we plan to share a raku firing together, each making pieces to fire by this exciting and unpredictable low firing process. It involves removing the pottery from the kiln when they reach red heat and placing it into containers with combustible materials. We intend to have an experimental approach with this aspect. Once the material ignites, the containers are closed, and this produces an intense reduction atmosphere which affects the colours and glazes. The drastic thermal shock also produces cracking which gives tactile colours and patterns to the surfaces of the fired artworks. The risk and uncertainty of the firing process, along with the fragility of the clay and its exposure to the four elements, seems entirely appropriate to our themes.

Introduction to my studio

It is my intention during the course of the residency to work both indoors and outdoors and primarily work with survival blankets, constantly referencing the work of my fellow two artists to create a cohesive body of work. The survival thread runs through all of our work especially when we celebrate the wellbeing that artistic endeavour brings to our lives. Then, as we conclude I will create a miniature set that will present our creations in a gallery environment.

Rob Mackie

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My childhood was steeped in fairy tales, poetry, and a sense of magic and with a wonder for the natural world. I try to reflect this in my work and am especially inspired by birds, fascinated by wings, feathers and flight. My garden studio in the Cotswolds is stacked floor to ceiling with vintage china, collected from auction houses, car boot sales and charity shops. The china for each artwork is carefully chosen including makers such as Spode, Alfred Meakin and modern makers like Emma Bridgewater. Her birds often include makers’ marks inset against the colours and patterns, a nod to the fading tradition of china production in Stoke on Trent and perhaps the passing of time. She enjoys the resonance of working with reclaimed china – evoking memories of hand painted Irish family china with echoes of drinking tea together and family meals.

Emily Lawlor

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During this residency we will be working in various locations both in our own studios as well as outdoors. My home studio is an Aladdin’s cave of collected items, from leaves to magazines, fabric to coiled wire. My work is mainly sculptural, and I choose materials that can be moulded and manipulated, such as wire, papier mache, textiles, plaster and clay. For this residency I have chosen to work with clay, creating a series of tiles which I will then sculpt into 3D pieces. By manipulating this malleable material, I am able to imbue a sense of self and security within these small clay sculptures. I would describe my work as feminine and homely as much of my work has a female bias and a domestic feel to it, linking it back to security, the familiar and a stable environment.

Ally Goff

Creating Work 1: Working with Clay

I was drawn to working with clay for this residency, rather than my main medium of mosaic. I love the transformative quality that working with clay has and wanted to explore the ideas of survival and fragility that we had identified for the residency, by working into the clay surface with different contrasting objects. Firstly I kneaded the clay which is cold and malleable to the touch, to ease out the air bubbles.  Then the clay is beaten and shaped into a block with a wooden rolling pin before I run the clay through a slabroller to make the raw tiles ready for imprinting patterns and textures. This gives a wonderful canvas to work on.

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I work large scale at first on a piece around 40cm x 30cm. I like to use the whole space, filling the surface with texture and pattern and marks. I generally use cranked clays but also experiment with bodies such as White St Thomas which are more fragile in the firing process and sometimes crack in interesting ways. To build up the surface pattern I used wooden Indian printing blocks and metal printing letters, feathers and natural objects such as pine cones and ammonites. I also used fragile textile pieces such as lace and old wallpaper to imprint into the clay, experimenting with pressure and depth and with mark making. I also wanted to imprint words into the surface by selecting the tiny individual letters and pressing each one into the clay, this felt like I was giving a physical status to the words; giving them substance as they appeared alongside the patterns.

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Once the clay has started to become firm with its contact with the air, I use metal tile cutters to cut the clay down into squares. Using the tile cutter almost like a view finder to select areas, breaking up words and patterns into new abstracts. The tiles are first fired in the biscuit kiln to a temperature of approximately 1100 degrees C. The bisque tiles will then be brushed with raku glazes before being fired again. The finished tiles both at biscuit stage and glazed, will have rich tactile surfaces, inviting touch and exploration from the viewer.

Emily Lawlor

Creating Work 2: Clay tiles

As a 3D artist, while making sculptures I try to express my feelings and emotions through the work, imbuing it with the here and now. This process is very tactile, allowing me to engage with the materials. By using clay, I am able to shape and mould this malleable material, allowing my hands to create what I am feeling at any one time, creating deeply personal outcomes. During the clay tile making session documented in the video, I had no pre-planned ideas, I just began making tiles as they were easy to manufacture and fire. Once created I began working with them and thinking of what they might represent, I saw the connection between something solid, a sense of security, a roof over one’s head, a safe space.

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After rolling out and cutting the tiles I began to embellish them by imprinting my fingers and letters into the clay. Further tiles were grasped, stretched, pulled and manipulated, perhaps replicating a need to hang onto something, a sense of survival. With the last tile I created a free-standing sculpture, by wrapping the clay in my hands it formed a sort of cloak, taking on a whole new significance; linking my work to that of Rob Mackie with his use of survival blankets. Looking at the finished pieces I began thinking about what I had made, I realised that a key element keeps manifesting itself throughout this residency, that of survival.

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These hand-crafted pieces illustrate fragility and vulnerability at this most difficult time; demonstrating what it is to be human, the need for protection, to feel safe and secure. By incorporating fingerprints, they represent identity, our sense of self, something personal to each of us, that perhaps may seem lost or confused during these strange times. Once biscuit fired these tiles will continue their transition, during the next stage of the process, they will be thrust into the flames of the raku kiln, to be rapidly fired and then plunged into water, putting them under immense stress, with an uncertain outcome; mirroring perhaps the challenges and experiences we are all currently facing. I eagerly await the next stage of the process when these tiles will be thrust into the flames of the raku kiln, with an uncertain outcome.

Ally Goff

Creating Work 3: Emergency Blankets

The activities in Pittville Park were carried out and recorded as an introduction for our up and coming workshop with the Wilson Art Collective. The aim was to stimulate ideas that could be created with emergency blankets. I have been working with emergency blankets since December 2019 and I am fascinated by the material. In certain light conditions you can see through them and they act like a one-way mirror. When suspended they respond to the slightest breath of air and all the time they are desperate to borrow the colours around them like multifaceted mirrors. 

 

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In my research I came across the work of an artist called Chudamani Cloes. Sri-Lankan born Chudamani has worked with these blankets as canvases for some time, which gave me the idea of painting on them, leaving generous gaps of virgin material that would then want to borrow the colour of my clothes as I passed by; a sort of interactive painting. In Pittville Park, Ally and I joined with two other students from the University of Gloucestershire (Sam Bates an MA art student and Olivia Mitchell, a second year art student) to apply paint in a very childlike way, then wrap the resulting work around trees. It was during the photography of the reflections that we started to become excited by the distorted facial images that we were able to capture. They seemed somewhat alien! We were able to identify so many levels of possible future interaction with the resulting work.

 

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Prior to writing these few paragraphs I once more decided to research some of Chudamani’s work, only to find information I hadn’t found before. Her use of survival blankets as canvases is a reference to the difficult journeys of displaced migrants arriving on the shores of Europe and secondly an article that was written about her in the Sunday Observer on the 3rd of May 2020. The article starts with the most wonderful picture of her reflected in several blanket ‘mirrors’. It just goes to show, there is nothing new under the sun. Throughout our work together Ally, Emily and I have sensed the need to survive in these strange times and so I would suggest the blankets are a pertinent link.

Rob Mackie

Creating Work 4: Survival

We chose a theme of SURVIVAL as our common theme for the residency. A basic human instinct that links us all as humans and has been very much at the forefront during the pandemic. We each survive in our own way. It can mean something different from one person to another. In this project we set out to create a lifeline through art – exploring the ideas of feeling safe, unsafe, protected, isolated and vulnerable. Survival can mean something different to everyone. Some of the words we have been thinking about related to survival are ENDURANCE, HEALING, TRANSFORMATION, and STRENGTH. Surviving something can also be through having a sense of humour. We have all had to self-reflect over the past six months, spending a lot more time on our own and seeing our faces reflected back at us in social media, on Zoom or FaceTime calls. We want you to play with your reflection by adding colour. We would like you to think about the idea of what survival means to you; do you feel safe? What colour is safe? Do you feel strong? Do you feel vulnerable? Have fun.

Via Zoom, Rob talked about the emergency blanket painting project and invited the Wilson Arts Collective to contribute to our residency. We each in turn introduced ourselves and then presented our ideas as to how this distanced art workshop would work. Having seen our photos and videos from Pittville Park the participants knew what we were hoping to achieve, now it was up to them to be inspired and to create something personal as their interpretation of our theme.

Creating Work 5: Raku

Raku generally refers to a type of low-firing process that was inspired by traditional Japanese potters. The process usually involves taking pieces of biscuit fired clay from the kiln while at bright red heat and placing it into containers with different combustible materials. Typically, these materials are newspaper or sawdust, but we wanted to experiment and also used leaves and banana skins. Once the materials ignite, the containers are closed. This produces an intense reduction atmosphere which affects the glazes and the clay bodies. The drastic thermal shock also produces a deliberate crazing in the glaze. During a raku firing, all of the four elements are used: earth, fire, air, and water. The clay/earth is used to make the tile or pot, then it’s put into a kiln at around 500 degrees, then into sawdust which ignites to fire and is then plunged into water. .

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The cold water halts the firing process.  We felt the raku process was pertinent to our process as the pieces are often fragile and cracked having survived the process and more beautiful because of it in their transformation. The kiln was set up outside where we could undertake the firing safely and socially distance. Prior to firing the biscuit fired clay items were glazed or part glazed and then placed into the kiln. After a short time, they were then passed from the fire whilst extremely hot and placed onto a bed of sawdust, newspaper and leaves. The container was then lidded starving the fire of oxygen. Once it ceased smoking the pieces were plunged into water to shock them and cool them rapidly. When cool enough to touch they were washed off and the beauty of their results were revealed. Through the scorched clay we could see flickers of iridescent turquoise and copper, silver and gold.

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The white glazed pieces looked aged and crackled having been distressed by the extremes undergone during this process. The finished outcomes although unpredictable and sometimes broken were all beautiful in their own way. Reminding us that in life, as in art, things do not always need to be perfect to shine. Prior to firing the biscuit fired clay items were glazed or part glazed and then placed into the kiln. After a short time, they were then passed from the fire whilst extremely hot and placed onto a bed of sawdust, newspaper and leaves. The container was then lidded starving the fire of oxygen. Once it ceased smoking the pieces were plunged into water to shock them and cool them rapidly. Through the scorched clay we saw flickers of iridescent turquoise and copper, silver and gold. The finished outcomes although unpredictable and sometimes broken were all beautiful in their own way. Reminding us that in life, as in art, things do not always need to be perfect to shine.

Creating Work 6: WAC

We enjoyed all the artworks that were created by the Wilson Arts Collective. Each demonstrated a very personal approach, an individual standpoint and response to the brief that we had set. A range of colours and mark-making, symbols and imagery. The first piece that we discussed was a delicately painted feminine work by Danielle, her mark making was deliberate and the blended paint created beautiful fleshy tones. The use of fading and texturing gave the piece an ethereal almost dreamlike sense. Some of her imagery looks ancient and primitive linking us with another place and time, perhaps. Where there is no paint, the patterns and shapes reflected her surroundings and seem to sharpen and give a more edgy feel to the piece.

 

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In contract Ross has used his blanket to create an amazing 3D sculpture. The manipulation of the material and the finished shapes take on an almost human form. The use of the colour blue contradicts this creating a tension between what we see and what we assume.  The blue also seems to signify a sense of strength and depth. The areas of the blanket at the edges that have not been scrunched catch the light in smooth shards reflecting the wooden surface beneath. Ross has cleverly utilised his blanket to create an altogether unique and sculptural piece. This approach also links to our idea of transformation that was demonstrated through our raku firing; transforming 2D to 3D.

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We also looked at Joe’s blue portrait, an unmasked face in profile with black outline against the mirrored surface. It seemed that the face was surrounded by a pale pink miasma or cloud. We felt that this could represent a pale pink outbreath swirling around the face. This seemed pertinent in the pandemic that we are experiencing as we are all masked, and it is noticeable seeing imagery of a face that is without a mask giving a sense of vulnerability.

 

Creating Work 7: Miniature Galleries

At the beginning of lockdown I had three months left to complete my fine art degree final hand in. I have generally always worked big throughout my studies, so being confined to a dining room table certainly posed a massive challenge. Days spent pouring over sketchbooks eventually led to the idea of miniature galleries. Working with the illusion of size certainly seemed to fit the bill going forward. I started working with hand sized pieces of work being viewed by three-inch-high people. The result was “massive sculptures” before my eyes.

 

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I then went on to develop an ‘art for care homes’ project where I sent postcards to care homes and asked the residents to create art and send them back to me so I could photograph the work in a gallery situation. The Howard Street Gallery and the Howard Gallery were then started, and both can be found on Instagram. Since then I have moved from Howard Street in Gloucester to St Ives Court in Pittville Cheltenham, hence my new art space, The St.Ives Gallery. As a result of the Raku firing, Emily and Ally created some of the most exquisite pieces of ceramic and we just wanted them to be seen. We came to the decision, to showcase some of the pieces in the miniature gallery and in doing so we have been able to dovetail and tie in my work with theirs beautifully.

 

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In the slideshow that I have created to be included with this post I have aimed to show how the gallery is constructed and showcase the ceramics in a totally different way. The miniature galleries can be created very cheaply with some foam board or maybe even a cardboard box and some tiny people and it’s a project that can be carried out by young and old alike. By photographing the results carefully, the images can then take you into a different world, a miniature world, a place of make believe. If you have read this post and decided to experiment or encourage your children (if you have them) to have a go, I would be interested to see your results. Images can be sent to me at robandmackie@gmail.com and I will add them to the St Ives Gallery on Instagram to showcase the results.

 

Reflecting on the residency

We kicked off this project in the garden at Kemble Train Station and it seemed so right to end where we started. We decided to reflect on the words that have constantly come to the surface over the past month. Survival in these challenging times, our responses to them, as well as celebrating the unique experience of working together and finding ways to embrace wellbeing. We have done that and rest happy.

Rob Mackie

 

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I love words and working to distil our process into a series of words was an interesting process. I find the contradictions in the idea of survival to be very interesting and how we can capture this creatively. On the one hand, the idea of survival is about vulnerability and fragility but on the other extreme, it can be hand in hand with fortitude and strength. One person can experience a range of feelings and emotions. One aspect of this that comes through very strongly is how humour, a universal human language, can be a powerful tool of survival. This transports me back to the Art room at the Hospice which is where I met Rob, where laughter was at the heart of all that we did with the patients, and at that moment in time, was at the core of surviving the challenges that individuals were facing. Sense of humour has also been a feature of our work together throughout the project.

Emily Lawlor

 

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Having chosen and recited our ten words we then had an open discussion about how the residency has impacted upon us individually, and how our selected words reflected this. Surprisingly there were few duplications as everyone’s perception of the experience had proven quite different. We liked this fact as it emphasises our uniqueness and each of our individual inputs. Working on this collaboration has for me been a truly valuable experience, I have learned a great deal which I will take forward into my future practice. Despite the difficult times we have found ourselves in we have risen to the challenge and as artists been able to create something new and exciting even in the darkest of times, demonstrating our flexibility and resilience. I am proud and privileged to have been a part of this experience.

Ally Goff

 

Reflecting on the residency 2

It has been an interesting collaboration between The Three of Us. Although we have a common theme of arts for wellbeing, we have each displayed very different perspectives which has made a fascinating mix. The use of clay as one of the materials that we have worked with and the subsequent Japanese style raku firing put me in mind to the Japanese art of Kitsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken ceramic pieces back together with gold; a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections. “You won’t realize your full potential until you go through the tough times,” Kumai says. I feel this has great resonance with the ideas that we explored throughout this process; the idea of survival as transformation and healing and accepting the scars we have gathered along the way.

Emily Lawlor

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The virtual residency has now ended just as quickly as it started, however I believe the three of us have grown through our interaction together and also as a result of working with Wilson Arts Collective. A very diverse group of people with very different practices. I do feel we have fed off each other and created a challenging body of work. The associated slideshow presents some of the finished work to the world. In these surreal times I believe as a group we have embraced the technological challenges we have faced, creating a virtual residency and supporting each other when there have been gaps in our knowledge. Collaboration has always been important to me and once more I rejoice in the wellbeing benefit this group has brought to my life.

Rob Mackie

 

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By working collaboratively as part of The Three of Us, I have felt a sense of comradery, feeling encouraged and supported by my fellow artists and inspired to experiment and create intuitive works. From painting Al Fresco on survival blankets in Pittville Park to handcrafting clay tiles in my studio, the momentum has remained constant, allowing us to work not only with each other, but also participating in the WAC workshop. Resulting in some incredible, and often unpredictable outcomes. The works we have produced are testament to human’s ability to adapt and be resourceful creating beauty against all odds. This has been a most difficult time for creative people, having the opportunity to contribute alongside Emily and Rob, and experience this residency has been a most informative, enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Ally Goff

 

Project Funding

This project was funded by the Arts Council England Emergency Support Fund

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