Engaging

As the Engage (National Association for Gallery Education) goes into the second day of its annual conference in Cardiff – Landing Place – it seems like a good time to look at how art reaches audiences and how they react.

I have to confess that I’ve been a bit too awash with various projects to make it to the conference, but did get to the pre-conference social at Ffotogallery’s Turner House Gallery two days ago to meet up with a very lively group of gallery educators who make up the coal face of visual arts mediation and interpretation across the UK.

Before everyone got even more lively on the mulled cider on offer they were treated to a quick overview of what the education team at Ffotogallery have been doing. And here I have to declare a big fat interest. Last year I asked them if they’d be interested in working with me on an outreach project as part of a public art programme I’m managing in my home town of Penarth. A social housing project called the Billy Banks has passed its sell-by date and is being re-developed into the new Penarth Heights. I’ve been anxious to fold in the people who used to live there, to capture the history of what was a bold experiment in social housing back in the 70s, and to link the project to the wider town. Before the bulldozers had razed the last traces of the old site to the ground, Ffotogallery sent six artists in to six local schools, taking them on site visits and getting them to make their own very individual responses to the change. You can see the results here.To say they exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement, underlined by the massive grins on the faces of the pupils who came to the launch event at the end of last month.

For some of those young people this was their first contact with an artist. And here’s the thing. Most artists don’t make their primary living form making and selling their work. It’s through education – teaching, artist-in-residence projects and activities that may seem at a tangent to their artistic practice, that many earn their daily crust. And for artists like Matt Wright, Faye Chamberlain, Chiara Tocci, Michael Iwanowski, Ewan Jones Morris and Nat Higgins this is an opportunity to work directly with a new audience. For the schools, of course, it’s a rare opportunity to work with new media and processes, as well as giving pupils and teachers an insight into how how artists work and adding a new dimension to curricular work they may already be working with. I just hope that this is the kind of work that registers with the Welsh Government’s New joint review to look at broadening access to the arts in education.

David Garner Future Tense But of course gallery education isn’t just for the children. Last week I took myself northwards to Aberystwyth Arts Centre for a talk by artist David Garner. His current show Future Tense is dense with meanings, as is much of his work. For this body of work he has thrown all of his thinking about the impact of globalisation into the creative furnace to produce a series of works which, in the pared back shell of the gallery, set up conversations with each other and send out narrative threads across the space.

Looking at them without recourse to the information sheet and before the scheduled gallery talk, they spark off a range of thoughts and responses, informed by my own baggage of experience. And then I start to consider them as distinct objects. All are made with an exceptional attention to detail so that I found myself looking for the joins, the interventions with the found objects that transform them to something else – a shift in scale in a child’s school desk,; the dark and exotic woods of what looks, at first glimpse, like a normal wooden pallet but has tiny dowel pegs where the roughly banged in pegs would be; the retro paint on the base of a giant spike at human height. piercing hundreds of time cards (the punched out chips in a glass jar nearby).

David Garner Future Tense detail from Lost Symbols in a Global CurrentWhen Garner starts to tell the gathered audience (I think there were about 30 of us but we were walking and talking so head-counting was tricky – it was a good turnout anyway), he starts to feed us details, thought processes, material information that adds another layer. There are some things intended by the artist that will never be obvious to the gallery viewer but, half an hour over time, we leave with a sense of having taken something new on board and that an exchange has occurred.

Back to Cardiff and even further back in time. As part of the current Artes Mundi prize offering at National Museum Cardiff shortlisted artist Apolonija Šušteršič managed to do what no-one else has managed in over 25 years. As part of her presentation for Artes Mundi she created a new project and an archive around the development of Cardiff Bay and the barrage that changed the view of what was once Cardiff’s Docks forever. As part of this project she filmed the pro and anti-barrage protagonists and, for Talk Show, she invited both sides to look back at the changes to Cardiff Bay. This was to be the first time that both sides had ever been able to share a platform, filmed live and unedited for an hour, the ensuing debate  showed that feelings around the development that displaced people and birds (Šušteršič remained neutral, although she has her own views on economically driven development, I am less so) are still raw.

Apolonija Sustersic Talk Show 19.10.2012

So within the context of a gallery exhibition, the outsider’s eye, in the form of the artist’s camera, brought a new perspective to an understanding of how places get made and un-made. And the events around art practice, when artists are allowed the opportunity to add another dimension to work that is already interesting, leave everybody better off.

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Open Doors, Closing Doors – Cardiff Open Studios

David FitzJohn TactileBOSCH Citizen

This weekend (27 & 28 October 2012), as part of Cardiff Contemporary, around 100 artists will fling open their doors and welcome people in to see what they get up in their creative work spaces for Cardiff Open Studios.

This is the first time that there’s been this concerted effort by so many artists and is an indicator of the collaborative spirit that pervades the first outing of the two month visual & applied arts & design festival that is Cardiff Contemporary (01 October – 30 November).

There’ll be a bittersweet tang in the air because this weekend marks the end of tactileBOSCH‘s existence in the old Victorian laundry that this throbbingly vibrant group of artists has occupied for 12 years.

I first wrote about tactileBOSCH here when I was still just dipping a toe in the blogosphere’s murky waters. Buried in that blog is an interview with co-founder of tB, Kim Fielding so here it is again so you don’t have to rummage around looking for it. Though, as a still very green trainee journalist I hadn’t factored in my interview subject scoffing chocolate biscuits (provided by me as a bribe to get my interview), nor the very necessary hum of a fan heater – tB could be arctic in the winter.

The importance of places like tB can’t be overstated: incubators for new talent; studio spaces for economically challenged artists (most of the artists I know); platforms for work that doesn’t fit into other gallery spaces; a meeting of minds; a buzz. So much. I’ve already written about why affordable artists’ studios are important here so I won’t bang on, but the loss of tB from the Cardiff art scene will be keenly felt and it will be mourned by all the artists from across the UK and the globe who have had a chance to make and show work there.

So tonight (27 Oct), from 6pm there’ll be the party of a lifetime and, as always, everyone is welcome.

Blowback tactileBOSCH 2012

But before that party, there are plenty of other studios for you to visit and there’s bound to be tea, cake, chat, great work, friendly artists just waiting to say hello. The Cardiff Open Studios website has lots of helpful advice for planning your trip, including this map to guide you around the city.

Here are the venues and artists – take a deep breath, it’s comprehensive:

André Stitt’s Studio Artist: André Stitt Anthony Shapland’s Studio Artist: Anthony Shapland Butetown Artists Studios Artists: Philip Nicol, David Gould, Richard Cox, Mary Husted, Maggie James, Carwyn Evans, Carol Hiles, Annie Giles Hobbs, Dilys Jackson, Jan Beeney, Will Roberts Cardiff Print Workshop Artists: Anne Williams, Lauren Burgess, Catherine Ade, Becci Holmes, Jane Taylor, Dave Pettersen, Claire Carter, Georgina Brownlow, Sue Paton, Sue Edwards, Mana Pon, Sally Williams, Jane Marchesi, Eirian Lloyd, Bill Chambers, Lilith Gough, Jackie Shackson, Jan Arwyn Jones, Steve Griffiths Fireworks Clay Studios Artists: Becky Adams, Dan Allen, John Blackwell, Lowri Davies, Natalia Dias, Virginia Graham, Diane Horne, Lisa Krigel, Frankie Locke, Nicola Moorhouse, Sara Moorhouse, Zoe Preece, Matthew Thompson, Caroline Taylor, Paul Wearingm Gemma Wilde, Joseph Hopkinson, Jin Eui Kim, Louise Hall, Carol Freehan, Ann Jones.Fox Studio Artists: Phil Lambert, Catherine Lewis, Sam Aldridge, Elbow Room, Cathryn Lowri Griffiths, Jude Noon, Sara Annwyl Geraint Evans’ Studio Artist: Geraint Evans Inkspot Studios Artist: Candice Black Jacqueline Alkema’s Studio Artists: Jacqueline Alkema Kings Road Studios Artists: Jan Williams, Jo Berry, Gordon Dalton, Lee Campbell, James Charlton, Alun Rosser, Andy Fung, Amber Mottram, Rabab Ghazoul, Brian Watkins, Sam Pickthall, Chris Moore, Margaret Sian Williams, Chloe Barry, Barrie J Davies. Molly Curley’s Studio Artist: Molly Curly Morgan Arcade Studios Daniel Hamilton, Nicole Miles, Heloise Godfrey, Lynton Black, Liam O’ Connor,Christopher Holloway, Julien Decaudin, Godmachine, Emma Levey, Lucy Daniels, Cath Jones, Cath Wetherhead, Nic Jones, Robert Lo Bue (Applingua), Sarah HIll (Applingua), Yoke Creative Morgen Hall’s Studio Artist:Morgen Hall Oriel Canfas Gallery Artists: Alun Hemming, Anthony Evans, Chris Griffin, Pete Sainty, Adrian Metcalfe Printhaus Artists: Printhaus Print Workshops, Shaun James, Alys Wall, Jan Bennett, Sophie Barras, Sue Roberts, Liz Picton, Jenny Cashmore, Goat Major Projects, Nathalie Hooper, Cinzia Mutigli Print Market Project Artists: Pete Williams and Print workshops facilities. Studio b Artists: Anna Rafferty, Emily Lander, Kelly Best, Lauren Foulkes, Louise Shenstone, Molly Firth, Rhiannon Boswell, Elena Andruhiv tactileBOSCH Gallery and Workshops Artists Kim Fielding and a host of others presenting at final show after 6pm 27th October. Third Floor Gallery Studios Artist: Ian Smith Warwick Hall Studios Artists: Matt Cook, Freya Dooley, Matthew Evans, Gabrielle Frazer, Rebecca Wyn Kelly, Beth Lewis, Ellie Young

There are links to all of the artists and studios on the Cardiff Open Studios site. All of this has been pulled together by Richard Higlett in an astonishingly short space of time.

It’s going to be a great weekend. Hope to see you there.

Shaken & Stirred at the Millennium Stadium

Male Singer,  Shirin Neshat - Turbulent, Wales Millennium Stadium 18.10.2012 EG

We sit chatting in a stadium meant for many thousands. Slowly the roof closes above our heads, the chatter fades as the sky shrinks. The giant screens switch from the blue logo of Outcasting : Fourth Wall festival to black and white.

4W screen at the Wales Millennium Stadium 18.10.2012 EG

To our left a man, his back to a theatre full of seated men; to the right, her back to us and him, a woman in a black veil stands, facing rows of empty seats. Below them both the real seats of the stadium, tipped up until the next rugby match.

The man leans forward to the microphone in front of him and starts to sing. Everyone is silent as the extraordinary, passionate song echoes around the space, bouncing into our ears and building in intensity. Even if I understood the language it would be secondary to the meaning of the performance. Across the pitch the woman stands motionless, waiting. The man steps back. His audience – on screen and off are appreciative – and he stands, looking out at us, his gaze not reaching the figure across the cavernous space.

Female Singer, Shirin Neshat - Turbulent, Wales Millennium Stadium, 18.10.2012 EG 3

A sound swells from the woman. It seems not-quite-human. The hackles on my neck begin to lift. She turns and pours out music that is so other, so different from my experience that my mind stumbles to relate it to something familiar and can’t. Visceral is a word that gets bandied about, but it feels apt here. This sound goes beyond sound or language. It is raw, pure emotion. We are transfixed. It rises, an outpouring of feeling that is as universal as the sound is alien.

She stops. It is over. The empty seats behind her remain silent. A performance for no-one. Except us. We pause as the title roll. We clap.

Shirin Neshat, the Iranian artist who gave us this extraordinary work – Turbulent (1998) – is not here, but we clap anyway because there isn’t anything else to do.

As the hackles fold back to the napes of our necks the screen brightens again. This time we are in more familiar territory. People are standing at the roadside, waiting for something. Their faces anticipatory, anxious, strained or perplexed and bored, depending on their age, experience or understanding of what the waiting is for. There are men in garish regimental ties, older men with medals and uniforms, children, women clutching flowers. Behind them a High Street like any other – bright fronted shops, street furniture. Dogs strain at their leashes. We understand that something is expected and it’s not a good thing, not something to encourage bunting and flag waving.

Katie Davies - The Separation Line, 2011

We never see what it it is but Katie Davies in her 2011 film The Separation Line creates a sense of expectation, of sadness and manages to evoke the mixed emotions that accompany any crowd gathered together to mark something important. Although the film is edited from a series of recordings made over several years, when Wooton Bassett (now Royal Wootton Bassett) was the scene of all too many repatriation ceremonies to mark the return of the bodies of soldiers killed in action far away, the film is seamless and seems to exist in a continuum of anticipation, aftermath and grief.

Again we clap. The artist is present but doesn’t rise or bow – artists can be ridiculously modest in the face of appreciation.

Again the screen switches from the blue to black and white. This too seems familiar. Old footage and a face addressing a crowd. I know this scene, Martin Luther King is about to share his dream. Will this be our rousing finale to damp down the range of emotions stirred by the last two films? No, wait a minute, that would just be an appropriation of existing footage. As King begins his defining speech his words are transmuted into the staccato of stringed instruments. The sound penetrates us through a public address system more used to accompanying a sporting fixture. As each swell of oratory reaches for punctuation, the sound burst forward. The applause from King’s crowd also bursts out of the PA, so that the whole experience becomes a pure interpretation of feeling

Donald Harding in his film MLK (2011) has transposed and re-coded something we think we understand to reveal an under layer of feeling and response.

Again, we clap, again the artist doesn’t bow.

In a half hour loop we have run through a gamut of emotions. We leave, but need to stick together a while so head for the pub while we process what’s just happened.

Artists’ film, at its best, is like a really good short story. In half an hour and three films, I was as stirred as I might have been (but often disappointingly am not) by three feature length movies. Here things are stripped down to the essentials, little details are pulled into focus, emotional peaks are reached quickly, laughs come faster. And then they’re gone.

When we set out to put on a modest festival for artists’ moving image in Cardiff, we thought we’d get some films, commission some new ones, show those and we’d try and find the right platforms and contexts for showing them. We didn’t dream of being let loose on the Wales Millennium Stadium traditionally the home of rugby, of the stadium rock gig, but we thought we’d ask and found ourselves pushing at an open door. As Roger Lewis Welsh Rugby Union Group Chief Executive, and the man in charge of all things Wales Millennium Stadium, noted earlier on the day of the screening, when he welcomed the Arts Council of Wales to the WMS for the annual conference, culture is culture, be it rugby, music, art.

So, in a place that usually reverberates with the hymns and arias of thousands of rugby fans, or the eardrum-challenging anthems of a rock concert, for one night only the stadium became something else, something equally stirring.

The first artists’ moving image festival for wales, Outcasting : Fourth Wall (O:4W) runs to November 30 in spaces and places across Cardiff, co-curated by Michael Cousin and Ruth Cayford. It is supported by the Arts Council of Wales festivals fund and Cardiff Contemporary, a new initiative from Cardiff Council. O:4W headquarters in the Queens Arcade

The Space Invaders

Disruption 2 David Marchant, Swansea 2012

As I write this I can almost hear the rumbling of activity waiting to happen in various parts of Wales over the next few months. Art is about to burst out of the galleries and meet new audiences for three festivals in Swansea, Cardiff and Conwy.

Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, Shelters Museum Green, Locws 2012
David Marchant Cowin’ Lush, Wind Street, Locws 2012  Jock Mooney - Swansea Kebab, Castle Square, Locws 2012

David Blandy -  The Devil Meets Dylan Thomas, Oxford Street, Locws 2012
First out of the traps is Locws International brings back Art Across The City, opening tonight (28 Sept) and runs to 11 November; Cardiff Contemporary (the web site is nearly ready to go live but here’s the Facebook page to give you a flavour) kicks off on 01 October and blinc returns to Conwy for its second year with I Love Conwy, Conwy Loves Me for the weekend of 27 & 28 October.

Lisa Stansbie Diaphone O4W

Installations, interventions, interactions all over the place. From giant lasers to an armoured vehicle projecting images; from caravans to on the buses; on walls, in empty shops, in the sky, underfoot:  film, video games, neons, sonic art, public art, public talks, public walks, pop-up galleries, performances, screenings, new commissions, older work re-presented. It’s going to be lively.

Just listing all the artists and venues would result in a novel-length blog, so please have a look at the sites as they come up.

But the bottom line is that much of this activity is artist-led and represents collaboration and a desire to engage new audiences.

Seeing art in a gallery can be a really stimulating experience, and I’ve seen some humdingers over the years, but it requires a proactive attitude and there are still many folk who think that they don’t belong in art galleries or museums. Once art takes to the streets or to the places where people can’t help but come across it, something else happens.

Phone Box Disco, Disruption 2, July 2012Earlier this summer I went to Swansea for Eysium Gallery’s  second year of disrupting the city. Disruption 2   took to the unloved High Sreet to create an afternoon of in-your-face performance and unusual activity. It was my first time in a phone box disco, complete with red carpet and bouncer, the smile didn’t leave my face until I’d fallen asleep that night. Passers-by were bemused, entertained or enraged, but most entered the spirit of the day. A wobble in the daily life of the city that transformed the rat run between the station to the glossy shopping arcades.

Locws commissions artists to respond to sites across the city, often working with communities who haven’t encountered artists before, creating temporary interventions that change the way these places look and feel (I reviewed the last one in 2011 here.)

Up in Conwy, blinc does the same thing in a very concentrated weekend featuring thirty artists and using sites all over the town, including the castle at its heart, with a strong focus on digital work and some spectacular events. Curated by Craig Morrison and Joel Cockrill, this year’s festival is a tribute to mathematician Alan Turing.

Meanwhile, in the capital city, Cardiff Contemporary is a new umbrella for a whole host of visual art and design activity, some already established, like Artes Mundi, Chapter’s Experimentica  and Cardiff Design Festival (opens tonight) , to newer festivals like Made in Roath and the very brand new Outcasting : Fourth Wall  artists’ moving image festival (launching next week). But there’s lots more, including special events and activities and a phenomenal amount of cross-over and collaboration.

Janet Cardiff sound piece, Karlsaue Park, Kassel, Documenta 13 2012

Over the past few months I’ve seen how art presented in this way effects the public in Liverpool and Kassel , bringing new ideas and experiences to the widest possible audiences. From tonight, until the madness of the festive season really gets us all in its grip in December, there’s a chance to be part of something exciting in the North, South East and West of Wales.

Chris Squire, blincSo if you’re anywhere near Cardiff or Conwy or Swansea over the coming month, don’t miss out.

Ghost Parade

Last night I went to Ebbw Vale. Not perhaps at first glance an opening line to evoke anticipation in the same way as, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, but trust me, this was a night that would rake up memories and provoke emotion. I was going to see the second leg of Adain Avion‘s tour around Wales, as part of the Cultural Olympiad, and the opening event in Ebbw Vale – Ghost Parade pulled together beautifully by artist Stefhan Caddick.

I’d been watching the weather anxiously all day. Summer had been doing its best but, by late afternoon, the grey clouds were back and gathering over the uplands above the South Wales Valleys. The windscreen wipers were swishing in earnest as I passed the fuselage of the Adain Avion DC-9, parked up in a lay-by, ready for its grand entrance.

Ebbw Vale hove into view through a veil of mizzle, but the car park was already buzzing with several hundred people, clutching slogan-less placards, finishing off their rehearsals for the great parade to come. And these people weren’t artists, bussed in to swell numbers, but a huge cross-section of the community. The crowd ranged from tiny dancing crews, cadets, local youth clubs, all the way through to the added exotic flourish of the belly dancing class and older individuals who would have remembered the marches and protests that marked the decline of the coal and steel industries, the principle sources of employment  the town throughout the 20th century.

In its heyday the town was black and red with coal dust and iron oxide, blasted away by the cold winds of the 1980s. It was home, in 1992, to one of the Garden Festivals that were supposed to reverse the blight of de-industrialisation and green up the scarred landscapes across the UK. Sadly the model had already been acknowledged as a failure by the time the festival’s turnstiles started to spin with the many visitors (circa 2,000,000).

So much for the history lesson, playing through the archive of my mind. A cheer went up as the DC-9 rolled into view and parked up, while a troupe of cadets drummed and the procession started to form, ready for the off.

Drumming cadets

Down through the town, with a tense moment as Adain Avion skimmed snugly beneath the arch of a bridge to pull up beyond.

A snug fit

And then the blank placards made sense as the crowd quietly (well, as quietly as such a crowd can manage) took their places along the walls of the tunnel of the bridge, holding up their white canvases as images of the past flickered across the placards and faces, while two trumpeters offered an accompaniment that managed to mix a mournful air with something more hopeful. Through the arch at the end of the tunnel the dusk drew in and the clouds rolled down from the hills.

Then we were off again, down to the site of the former steel works – new turf laid for the occasion and a brass band installed under gazebos to keep the rain out of the upward-tilted mouths of the euphoniums.

And now the white placards came into their own, hung off an armature to create a single screen (I can imagine project manager Sian Thomas with graph paper and pencil, working this out). Against the darkening sky and the moody hills, big history and small, personal vignettes (Caddick had collected footage from the locals) coalesced as the screen was completed and the scaffolding rolled away.

At 11pm the band put down their instruments, the screen went dark and security lights flicked on to keep the sleeping hulk of Adain Avion safe for a busy week’s worth of events in Ebbw Vale. Last week it was Swansea. Next stop Llandudno, then back to Cardiff for the final leg of Marc Rees‘ aviatory art project.

Adain Avion ready for bed

I have had mixed feelings about the Cultural Olympiad, partly seeing it as a bone thrown to the arts community in exchange for the raiding of the arts lottery pot to support the sporting event that will divide the UK in a few weeks. There has been much emphasis on inclusion and legacy, participation and reach. Not forgetting the actual quality of the funded events and the branding. But this project walked the thin wire across the chasm of token gesture, patronising inclusion and dubious quality and really delivered an evening to remember, that really seemed to resonate with the audience and participants (I eavesdropped like mad). And most telling of all, despite the rain, I didn’t feel moved to whinge. Not once.

Placards, job done

Glimpse – Brendan Stuart Burns

Like Dorcas Lane, from Lark Rise to Candleford, I have one weakness: gardening, making jam, art (goes without saying) and books.

A foolhardy old friend suggested I get rid of all the books in my home and get a e-reader (no product placement here). But that misses the point. I have books so old that when I open them they smell of the time when I read them, their pages orange with age. And I know the end pieces, the little illustrations, even the acknowledgements, off by heart. It’s all about the paper stock, the scent of ink, the font choice, the heft.

So when I was given Brendan Stuart Burns book Glimpse to review I was excited before I’d even seen it. It is gloriously lavish: juicy thick paper stock, sympathetic design, colour reproduction and the attention to detail that includes an embossed slip cover evoking the indentations left on the sand by a departing tide. Burns and designer Andy Dark have pulled out all the stops to make a bibliophile’s bosom heave with joy.

Glimpse

Glimpse is many things, but it is not a catalogue (though it’ll be launched at St David’s Hall on May 11 at the private view of his exhibition). Nor is it one of the plethora of self-published artists’ books, made for the hazy purpose of marketing, despite the fact that it has been privately financed by an enthusiastic patron.

Oh no, this book is an extraordinary exposition of an artist’s practice, made up of material from Burn’s obviously fruitful year-long residency at Oriel Parc in St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

A bit of background:
Oriel Parc is part of the Pembrokeshire National Park’s visitor centre in Wales’ tiniest city, St Davids. When the Collection of Graham Sutherland works were taken from Picton Castle, in the south of the county, and stored in the National Museum Cardiff, the Friends of Graham Sutherland lobbied hard for a new home in Pembrokeshire for Sutherland’s works made in response to the coastline. Eventually Oriel y Parc (gallery of the park, literally) was built, with the notion of showing works from NMW’s extensive collections of Sutherland works and emphemera, but giving those works a context with displays about the coastline and, most importantly, inviting artists to make their own responses to this ancient and beautiful landscape that flaunts its geology, marine biology and ancient legends in the exceptional western light.

The light and landscape have drawn artists to Pembrokeshire for centuries and the population is still dense with artists today. Burns has been visiting for over 20 years, making field drawings, taking photographs and then producing his beautiful jewel-like works, thick with paint and encaustic, back in his studio in Cardiff. He was a natural choice to be the first artist in residence at Oriel y Parc.

I lived in Pembrokeshire for 16 years and every time I saw a Burns’ canvas I thought “yes, that’s it, that’s what it’s like”, even though we’re not talking about representational work here, it isn’t abstract either, but what I suppose you could call representational abstraction.

I know no other artist who quite captures the gelatinous light of a Pembrokeshire beach at low tide as Burns does, and his canvases prompt comparisons with those outrageous Victorian aspic confections (“if it tastes good, let’s suspend it in jelly”). There is an innate understanding of form and mass in the drawn and painted references to geological and found forms and an absolute understanding of colour in the palette that conjures up mineral deposits, lichens and the marine flora and fauna spewed up by the tides that lash the coast. It is no surprise that writers, such as Professor Tony Curtis (who has written far more eloquently than I could in the book), are moved to poetry in response to Burns’ work.

Art historians and critics Mel Gooding and Dr Anne Price Owen also write enthusiastically and well about Burns, providing a critical context for his practice. Curator Sally Moss, the real driving force behind the residency, offers a more modest written contribution, which belies her sheer derring-do in getting the residency established in the first place and her insight into Burn’s work and how it might sit alongside the Sutherland oeuvre.

The book is full of images of the work, the printing and reproduction quality so high you can almost smell the paint and wax, fear that the charcoal will come off on your fingers.

But there are also the photographic studies, map references and, perhaps most importantly for other artists wrestling with a body of work, the journals.

Burns’ year-long journey to the work seen in the forthcoming show is minutely detailed in an honest and engaging way. Concerns about paintings that weren’t working jostle with the adaptation to a new working environment – one that was open to the public every Thursday – and the thought processes, the drawings, artistic frustrations, breakthrough moments.

Here is everything you need to know about the difference between looking and seeing.

As the residency draws to a close, there’s a building sense of urgency to get works finished, to explore and record as much as possible and the impending feeling of loss that comes with imminent departure. He has bonded with his studio, found its hot spots for working, adjusted to the rhythms of working 9-5 when the centre is open. He has also negotiated his way through the not always complementary agendas of the two organisations behind the residency – Pembrokeshire National Coastal Park and National Museum Wales, although he is discretion itself about this.

I had meant to skim through the book, when I met Burns during the hang at St David’s Hall, but found myself rooted to the spot, reading on and on, while the hanging team bustled about to get the work on the walls. As I got to the last few journal entries – reflective, poignant – I remembered the time when I had been an artist in residence myself, far from home, and that intense relationship with the work that builds up when there are none of the familiar distractions. And how very hard it is to leave when there is still much to be said and done. And yes, a little tear did form.

This is a special book that shouldn’t just be left on a coffee table (though at £75 you’ll want to show if off), but read and absorbed by artists of all disciplines, art lovers and anyone who wants to understand the creative process. It is also a beautiful object in its own right and I’ll be buying one and finding book-friends on my shelves for it to sit next to.

Glimpse will be on sale for the special exhibition price of £50 during the show at St Davids Hall. You can also buy it here for £75 See more about the production of Glimpse on Brendan Stuart Burns Website where there are also more images of the work in the exhibition. I would also highly recommend Tim Collier’s blog about the book.

Glimpse, the exhibition, runs at St Davids Hall until 13 June 2012.

Creative Wales

Simon Fenoulhet - Lucent Lines 2010

The Arts Council of Wales recently announced the latest batch of Creative Wales recipients, including two Creative Wales Ambassadors. The cat, which has been wrestling in its sack for several months since the decisions were made, was finally let out of the bag at the awards event hosted by Galeri, Caernarfon (the first North Wales ceremony).

Now this is a scheme that is very dear to my heart, established not long after I started working for the Arts Council of Wales in 2002. Unlike other schemes this one allows artists to step away from their day-to-day commitments and focus on a period of experimentation, research, trial and error. It is important because it recognises that there might be some failures which, we all know, are never truly failures but rather prompts to reflect, digest and move forward.

It is, however, a tricky beast. I have watched artists’ brains on the verge of explosion as the research period leads them off in many directions at once. On the plus side this creates fodder for the years to come, but focusing down to the most fruitful areas for creative pursuit can be difficult – seeing the wood for the trees from the middle of a forest in a storm – can be hard. This is where a critical friend or a professional mentor can help to shape the work at hand.

When I was trying to prepare artists for what might lie ahead I found it easier to draw as I went along, which resulted in a series of strange beasties that I called The Art Centipede (the illustration below is a mock up I did for g39’s closing show are we not drawn onward to new era and seems to have fewer legs than I usually managed). It’s not easy to explain the creative process as it’s so particular to each individual artist, but I had noticed a pattern forming at certain points in the Creative Wales process.

It should also be said that the post CW period can be very tough. Going back to the daily grind, but this time with a mind stuffed full of potential projects and fizzing to start realising them. That’s why it’s so important to keep talking to potential galleries or supporters while the project is ongoing to stimulate a bit of interest for the next stage.

I’m glad to see so many visual  artists make the cut again (three major and three lesser awards plus an arguable seventh in Simon Whitehead) – this scheme is almost tailor made for individuals used to working alone, albeit with an inclination to collaboration, and applied artists and writers often do well here too. Luckily ACW have laughed in the face of the winds of recession and upped the kitty by £50,000, recognising that investment in creative individuals to think and dream will bear fruit for everyone further down the line.

On the visual arts front there’s a picture forming – winners have had support earlier on in their careers by the galleries and organisations who make it their business to give emerging artists space to develop. g39, for example, can boast a relationship with five awardees and another is on his way to an exhibition in their new space. They are: S Mark Gubb, Simon Fenoulhet, Miranda Whall, Simon Whitehead and Craig Wood, alongside future g39 exhibitor Paul Emmanuel (winner of last year’s Welsh Artist of the Year). They were too modest to mention that the g39 staff can claim a total of four CW awards between them: Anthony Shapland, Michael Cousin (also a CW Ambassador) and Sean Edwards (who runs the Welsh Artists’ Resource Programme Warp).

So early support is obviously vital, but there’s still no commercial infrastructure to represent artists in Wales, apart from the sterling efforts of agencies such as Mermaid and Monster. Those few who do have commercial representation often have to look outside Wales for this. Artists who have come out of the Creative Wales process often pick up big solo shows: Sue Williams* went on to be one of only two Welsh artists included in the Artes Mundi Prize exhibition. Tim Davies, one of the very first AM artists (2004) got his CW award and went on to represent Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art in 2011 and is now on the board of Artes Mundi. Both Simon Fenoulhet (after his first CW award) and Andrew Cooper have had big solo shows at the ever-supportive Newport Museum & Art Gallery (which I’ve already covered in previous blogs – Andrew Cooper here and Simon Fenoulhet here), but what next? It seems a lot of artists are running to stand still in Wales.

Andrew Cooper - Dis-Location at Newport Museum & Art Gallery, 2011

And faced with the inevitable criticism about spending money on artists when the economy goes to hell in a handcart, it’s worth remembering that the spend on arts in Wales can, if equated to the expenditure being spread over a year, amount to a morning (with time off for tea and recession-friendly, poor-quality biscuits) of the Welsh Government’s budget. And behind all of this is the still very serious question of how artists’ awards are treated by HMRC. While the big boys of the creative industries get new tax breaks in the latest budget, the approach to these awards is patchy across tax offices. Some will be taxed on it, others not and I was once told, by a helpful HMRC officer, not to ask the question as it would result in everyone being taxed. Yet the creative and cultural industries still come in as the sixth biggest earner for Wales (way ahead of sport btw), and those big commercial enterprises feed off the original ideas of our artists. So go figure.

Culture Colony were in Caernarfon for a series of conversations around Creative Wales, with past and present recipients teasing out what it is. You can watch them here

*As an aside, but to illustrate the press reaction to artists here’s a little anecdote for those of you who have bravely read to the end of this: A Sunday Times journalist, casting around for a new story after the expenses’ scandal had stalled, cornered me for a quote about Sue Williams’ perfectly serious exploration of sexuality through body casting. I had no notion that the whole thing would turn into what I now, still shuddering, refer to as ‘Buttock Gate’ (I’m not linking to this or it’ll all rear up again, do your own googling). The story went viral and it’s deeply disturbing to see yourself (mis)quoted in many languages, while the illustrative pictures accompanying the story go from the artist in her studio to a random nymphette in a pair of lacy pants. Journalists eh!