We’ve been in Lockdown in Bristol for the past 7 weeks. I’m here with my seventeen year old daughter. My husband works as a psychologist for the local hospital. Most days he walks up the hill to work and my daughter and I buckle down at home. Often I feel low or anxious or depressed. Achieving ‘flow’ is helpful.

I am making plates using earthenware clay I bought in a hurry from Bristol’s Childrens’ Scrapstore prior to lockdown. I lay it out on my etching press and gradually roll it flatter and flatter. When it’s 9mm thick I transfer it to a plaster mould cast last year to create the basic oval shape.

If I leave this overnight it will be ready to tip out or work further the following morning so each platter takes a couple of days. The first day is technical, craft based, and the second is freer, wilder, more instinctive. A response to the clay and marks I make in it.

I use drawing (or mark-making) and writing to develop an initial idea and prompt the next platter but basically, because they are dishes, the context for the work is giving nourishment both literally and figuratively speaking. I ‘feed’ my family daily and I ‘feed’ my students weekly. Yes, I’m still meeting up with Press Play course participants courtesy of Spike Print Studio online, using Zoom mostly.

These people are extraordinary. Every week they give me more to think about and respond to. They are sometimes distressed or angry but they are always giving, creative and thoughtful so I too am being nourished. Thank you Press Play group and thank you Spike Print Studio. I am lucky to have you.

Thank you also to Steve Carter of St Werburghs Pottery and Bristol Folk House, who will fire these ‘feed-me plates’ one day and whose philosophical mutterings help me along.

I’ve been working with artist Natasha MacVoy recently.

In August last year my work was installed in her house as part of an ongoing investigation into the meaning and nature of curation called HER MIT PROJECTS. Curated by Tash, these projects deal with real people who are dealing with real things. Mothers being mothers, bereaved people being bereaved. HER MIT events take place in the spaces immediately available to Tash – her kitchen, the shed, a cigarette box.

This is what happened. On a Friday night in August I took nearly nine months’ work to her house. When I returned mid-day Saturday she had curated a small number of works and installed them in her kitchen and shed.

Initially she and I toured the work together, discussing the content and her decision-making process. (Later a small audience came to view the work and share food with us.) This was the first thing I saw walking into her kitchen with my heart in my mouth on Saturday.

This pairing of collage and teapot was fresh to me.

At first you might only see a teapot on the windowsill, but then you pick up on the ear-wigging suggested by the collage. And there are little things about the way it’s placed: the collage hangs from pegs like washing might; the slight space between this and the fridge; the messages on the pegs – ‘don’t forget’ and ‘already done’. Tash playing with the idea of being a mother in an exhibition space or an artist in the kitchen?

Also in the kitchen:

The charger was given its own space. The lines are reminiscent of a string of beads or, Tash thought, indents from a small child’s finger. The ear-like leaves of the plant above it on the windowsill sends you back to the teapot at the other end.

Over the kitchen table, against a backdrop of family photos, drawings and notes from friends are two prints:

This pair of drawings (string prints) are almost repeats. In contrast to the board of ‘special moments’ they serve as reminders of the necessity for repetition in life, whether you are an artist or a mother or both. The children in Tash’s family photographs are twins, repeats of another kind.

Tash’s garden shed studio is a baby to the house’s parent. In the shed:

That’s Tash, photographing the slightly rude white teapot. You should see what she’s placed behind it…

A chiminea. It’s funny isn’t it?

Here is a close up of the detached teapot handles, wall mounted. They hark back to the ears in the main house, also bringing to mind inverted commas – perhaps because of the second speech bubble collage, laid out on the cutting mat on a table to the left.

I made these finger bowls pretty much without thinking, a simple association of breasts with food. They are begging to be lifted off the cold marble slab / body underneath them. Notice the triangular hole in the cardboard box she chose to support the marble – genius. Without the box and marble slab – Tash’s interventions – the bowls would be more limited in meaning. They were her solution to the question: how are we going to display these?

In the top drawing Tash saw male and female body parts floating in a washing up bowl. With the pale double teapot on the windowsill were two further teapots: ‘over-giving mum’ and ‘introverted mum’ (below). All the teapots – are portraits of myself as a mother.

I had written down the main themes of these pieces before leaving them with Tash. Astonishingly sex and humour didn’t feature although they are a big part of what makes me who I am. I had been playing with ‘break and mend’; ‘ideals and falling short’; and ‘the jeopardy of childbearing / childrearing’.

Tash offered the audience Georges Perec’s piece on walls from ‘Species of Spaces and Other Pieces‘ and there was an article about photographer Francesca Woodman on the shed wall, another deep thinker about the self in relation to space. So carefully chosen, these pieces of writing contextualise Tash’s HER MIT projects so well.

In summary I guess two things really hit home as a result of this joint project:

One – to see my own work through the eyes of someone, intelligent and sensitive, who dares curate so strongly is to see it totally fresh and fully realised as something other, something beyond what I thought it was.

Two – for whatever reason, I’ve moved into a place where I find it difficult to share the work publicly. It makes me feel vulnerable in a way it never has before although I believe it to be really good work.

Who isn’t intrigued by the idea of fate?  

I bought the Paragon fine china fortune-telling cup thinking it might be the start of something. ‘CURIOUS THINGS I SEE WHEN TELLING FORTUNES IN YOUR TEA’ was lifted straight from it. Other than this couplet there is no writing on the original cup – the ‘predictions’ are visual, a collection of symbols.

Manufactured circe 1930, during a craze for homeware linked to fortune-telling between the two World Wars in Europe, when people craved stability and ‘the known’. 

In response I made a series of 13 variations of a cup and saucer – suspicious, me? – using contributions from nine artists and writers: Valerie Lester; Alison Lester; Kiri Lester-Hodges; Sarah Gregory; Julia Bloomfield; Rachel Raynes; Linda Parr; Ellen Wilkinson; Sammy Weaver. My own message was written with my younger self in mind as recipient. 

The choice of a Bodoni typeface for the message around the rim of the cup was a nod in the direction of Valerie Lester’s work on the printer’s life story.

The Lester-Hodges represent three generations of women in one family as do the Bloomfield-Gregory-Raynes’s. These two families have been linked since Val and Sarah met at the gates of Garden Suburb Infant School, North London in 1972. 

There is a word for reading fortunes in tealeaves: ‘tasseography’.

My thanks to Luke and Sarah Salaman. Luke contributed technical know-how and the cups were fired in their kiln in Bristol UK.

On Saturday I led a session for eight artists at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge.

The group worked collaboratively, both in practical terms and through discussion. The aim was to look at an outline for a contemporary drawing course but the following questions arose which were, in a way, more interesting:

How might drawing be employed as a tool to expand my practice?

How does my practice relate to other practices which use drawing as a research tool?

How do I relate to artists’ research into drawing?

How might this collaborative exercise relate to our individual practices?

Is there anything here which some of us could investigate outside of the group and bring back?

I would like to pursue these questions. Am currently fund-raising towards this end.

Leonie Bradley, Editor of Printmaking TODAY – a quarterly magazine for artists working with print – commissioned me recently to chart my journey to develop a program of continuing professional development for artists. Inevitably it talks about Press Play, a unique course now in its third year, created in collaboration with Spike Print Studios in Bristol UK. The article is in Vol 27 No 4, the winter 2018 issue, published by Cello Press.

Thank you to the many artists who have made contact as a result. Let’s keep in touch.

section of the article

Enough said I think.

The Liverpool Bestiary went off to Athens as part of the international conference (ATINER ISBN 978-960-598-199-0) in June 2018. Then the IMPACT 10 conference in Santander earlier this month. Here’s the link to a pdf catalogue.

The prints are currently on show in Avenue HQ, Liverpool and will also be exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as a pop up Arts Council event on 7 October, The Williamson Gallery (Wirral) as part of a series of talks and symposia entitled ‘the things that live under the stairs’ on the 16 November and at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool on 13 October.

Incredible. That print is getting out more than I am. Here’s a link back to ‘Being Cocky’! And here’s a link to another artist in the same portfolio, Lucy May Schofield. Fabulous work.