A Visitor Comment

At the Wirksworth show, a woman turned and looked through the crowd that had kindly squeezed into my exhibition space. She looked at, came over. Explaining the double-take, she explained – and recreated the double-take for me – she had absolutely assumed the artworks were made by a woman. It is one of the most… important moments… of an entirely joyful weekend.

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Frames as Houses

As part of my upcoming exhibition at an Arts Festival here in Derbyshire, I’m going to be showcasing a new series of INKY CONDITIONS prints entitled A House Lives In Me. This is a kind of illustrational call-and-response piece with the little wooden houses I’ve been making (like crazy) over the last few months. Same spirit, different medium. I’m very excited about this development. Excited about the series sitting alongside the existing works – the ‘main event’, in a manner. Whilst the invention and expansion of the house-centric project was healthily, joyfully simple (natural? intuitive?), the how-to of physically exhibiting the pieces was altogether not. Until last week.
Related world… moving into houses which have been other people’s homes. My pictures are moving into old frames.

An old frame.
A new picture moves in.

With all the oddities and the not-quite-to-our-taste-ness; the dated décor and well-intended frills. The old frames, truffle-hunted from the corners and high shelves of charity shops, are to be the poetic opposite of the neutral and the gleam. Tearing out mounts and ripping into floral efforts with all the grimmacing, unpleasant gladness of staking out new territories. The glass that has not seen a good wash in decades, like the grimed windows in the room which is earmarked as a study. That wall is coming down, eventually.
And the breakthrough is complete and at peace – making sense – with the whole piece. For these are all the little stories of the houses we have known.


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The Anniversary Benches, 2

A Creatively Different Wednesday takes me to the little woodshop, and more preparation of exhibition hardware. I’m becoming just as obsessed with making the stands and displays as I am about finalising prints, framing pieces and even producing more work. (This, by the way, for the Wirksworth showing of Inky Conditions.)

This does not surprise me. I really like to build stuff since I kinda hit the groove just about a year ago; the balance twixt the carefree and considered – basically the confidence to get ahead with making what I want. Encouragement and self-belief garnered from, amongst other sources, podcasts like Making It, Creative Pep Talk, James O’Brien’s Unfiltered. And, as ever, the rightness of being in and at the time that’s right.

I need the benches, backboards, shelving and modified easels to be more than functional carriers. The wood – reclaimed and pre-lived-with – must tell a similar story to the little houses and the inky worded pictures. My cast and my community made up of things that had their time in skips (US friends, read Dumpsters) else on the beach. Be more, even, than backing singers to my band. And I know at the same time that I could go on making forever: enough already that B. was moved to mention at the weekend that there could be quite a sea of wood at the show. Sea of Wood!

Today is our anniversary. Our 10th. The space I’ve given to thinking about this, is the space that comes with this new life, and with making things.

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Shredding cabbages on Monday. This is not the start of a Craig David follow-up, but is the starting of this year’s sauerkraut. To regular readers of this blog (doing a wave!) it’ll be known that I started with the fermenty ol’ cabbidge two years ago, and made a very great deal of that indeed. This, my third season, I was positively insouciant in my manner, which took the form of my reading poetry whilst wielding my wife’s sashimi knife (which pleasingly rhymes), tossing in the sea salt, caraway and fenugreek and musing upon baby birds. Differently this year, I have prepared an all-white cabbage fermentation alongside the purple. In these troubled and divisive times – at least as far into the mire as this present unelected rot would wheel us – it feels like I should stick with my merrily mixed-up version… but an actual straight and plainforward  (I know what I said) sauerkraut is something I’ve too long evaded and thus – and well. Fabulously and lithe-spirited, too, I somehow achieved exactitude of ingredients and equipment in the two shredded white cabbages filling the larger jar, and the one red cabbage the smaller. All this of course after the usual ambient soaking in their own sweet and near-audible sweat overnight – and in this weather, aren’t we all? The two jars of three cabbages are now begun their 20-day incarceration in a dark place.

Shredding documents on Tuesday. Part of a fresh campaign of decluttering. It seems inappropriate to add more words to that.


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In Building Little Houses, I am Searching

In building little houses I am searching for the connections; the reasons. The why? and what they represent. This passage is a start, but I don’t think it’s the all.

“And since, in all research concerning the imagination, we must leave the realm of facts behind, we know perfectly that we feel calmer and more confident when in the old home, in the house we were born in, than we do in the houses on streets where we have only lived as transients.”

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958. P.43, house and universe.

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Torn-off Addresses

Dad’s birthday last week. His first in the home that’s now his home. I visited, with wrapped gifts and a clutch of cards been sent to the address that was his last year. In the garden we open the envelopes together. One of his most important jobs as he became iller was to deal with the junk mail – remove the addresses; tear out the data. I re-show him this activity once I’ve too-loudly showcased the half-dozen greeting cards of sheds and boats and bottles of wine (‘Have the Best Birthday Ever!’ ‘Relax, it’s YOUR Day!’), and for a moment some memory in his fingers takes up the task – then quickly falls away… recedes… is clouded over. He stares at me, or rather at my shirt collar.

Inside, there’s a very kindly organised cake, with candles which he manages to blow out. I’m suddenly, selfishly aware that it’s not my coaxing makes this happen. At a nearby table, an old boy is chatting abstractedly but engagingly with a carer updating her paperwork. His low voice sounds beautiful. I miss me Dad just talking like that, I say to the girl (I don’t want to give names here). Dad can’t talk, or rather can’t form words. Apraxia? No matter – no medical assessor ever once saw fit to remark on it. No matter – it’s only the thing that keeps him far away. She makes a nice face, trained or raised in understanding. And then she says, Oh, we have our lovely chats, me and your dad. He gives me a high five – a big thumbs up – we have our own special conversations. Don’t we, eh? She throws this to him so well and I think he’s nodding and making a sound.

And this moment arrives when I’m somehow stupidly upset that they have their lovely chats, whilst he looks at me with a frowning silence which extends to not even meeting my gaze. Stupidly – that I should even for a second feel anything but glad he’s being cared for, by good people who make it their business to care, to look after others, and make new and near-impossible relationships.

The truth. That this home is now his home. His life. No power of ‘and’ exists for us. Every waking morning is another wave eroding what I cling to: not so much my loss of him, but the loss of us.

I lose count of the thank yous I dole out on this visit alone. Each sincere, unconscious, full of feeling – and with hindshight each an oar-stroke taking me further away from Dad. Thank you for the lovely chats, the high-fives, thumbs-ups, the walks to the gates. The cake. How you got him to smile for the photo.

This birthday is five years to the day since we all of us sensed the dementia for sure, and knew that this was happening.

Back in the too-hot car, already readying to phone news to Mum, I feel the undrivable clump in my back pocket, and I pull out the torn-off addresses from his birthday envelopes, which are now my job.

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These Little Houses

… happened in June.

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