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Blog : Posts tagged with 'artist'

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You can tell you’re British when…

In which we clear up odds and ends


… you start talking about the weather.

Some springtime might be nice. Instead, it’s been getting colder and damper and colder and damper. We’d turned the heating off to save a bit of gas; and were very reluctant to turn it back on, especially given the capricious nature of British Gas’s billing system.* It had to be done, though, otherwise the house probably would have started to sag into a mineshaft, or something along those lines. At least today things seem a bit brighter.

A web search that came in yesterday – terry williams artist bristol birch road – reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about another recent event we attended, the Southbank Bristol Arts Trail, tramping the streets of Bedminster and Southville – in the damp, of course – visiting artists’ houses and viewing their art. As we did last year, in fact; and, like last year, we went to look at Terry Williams’ art in his home on Birch Road. His paintings aren’t the sort of artwork we’d want to buy for our own walls, but he’s clearly an accomplished artist; my favourite painting by him was a large canvas titled “Birnbeck Pier By Night”. Largely black, the spidery lines of the semi-disused pier-bridge** were marked out more by texture than by colour. I will write more about the arts trail, as soon as I go through the list of venues and can recall which one in my head matches up with which description.

* It will trundle along for a while before saying “ooh, you’re hugely in credit, we’d better cut your monthly payments.” Then, a few months later, it will change to “ooh, you’re hugely in debt, better treble your monthly payments.” You’d think they’d realise that gas usage is bound to drift up and down seasonally, and compensate for that; instead, the seasonal change in the payments seems to magnify rather than even out the changes in usage.

** It’s called a pier but I’d say it’s technically a bridge, because it goes out to an island.

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Steam trains

In which we visit Levisham


A spare weekend: we went wandering, in the car, and on foot. We drifted through the moorland village of Levisham, as untouched a village as you’ll find in Yorkshire, with one road wandering through it across a broad green. Ambling downhill, we reached the railway station. We watched a train pull in, and shunt about, great clouds of steam rising in the December cold.

Prowling around the station, we discovered its Artist In Residence, Christopher Ware, in his studio. We chatted a little while, and studied his prints of bucolic trains. He can’t have many visitors on a day like that; hopefully we were a welcome distraction for a few minutes.

Levisham station Levisham station Levisham station
Levisham signal box Pulley wheels

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Guerilla art

In which we talk about art and anonymity


Over the years I’ve had all sorts of plans for art projects which have never quite got off the ground. So I’ve never had to answer the question: how would I feel if I did something Artistic, which became famous all over the place, but nobody knew it was me who did it.

The local news here was full of something similar, recently. All around Yorkshire, in Goathland, Kilburn, Arthington and Braithwell, mysterious stone heads have been appearing; and some then disappearing again. Intriguing, you could say. I’m strangely attached to the idea of mysterious heads – which are reminiscent of some of the stranger stone crosses on the Yorkshire Moors – popping up in the night. Rather like crop circles, in a way.

Unfortunately, though, the mystery of the stone heads hasn’t lasted very long. Crop circles were a puzzler for a few years, back in the 1980s. The stone heads have been a mystery for a few weeks; but they’ve only stayed a mystery for a few hours now the story has hit the national news. They are apparently made by a chap called Billy Johnson. Presumably, he’s done it all for the publicity;* as he left some easily googleable clues attached to each head, it’s fairly obvious that he wanted to be found. Artists have to make money somehow, after all. Personally, I’d rather it had stayed a mystery, though.

Mysteries are good for the imagination. An anonymous sculpture, appearing out of nowhere, is something to tantalise the mind and get you wondering about all those things sitting just around the edges of the known world. A self-publicising sculptor called Billy Johnson – whether he’s real or not – is dull and mundane by comparison.

* and I’ve just helped, haven’t I. Oh, well. Billy, if you’re a self-googler and you’re reading this, I’ll tell you where my own street corner is; you can leave one there and I’ll make sure you get some more publicity for your website.

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Infernal machines (part 2)

In which we discuss an artist of invention


The other week, I wrote about W Heath Robinson, and how I first discovered him: illustrating the children’s books of Norman Hunter. He wasn’t as good for the stories, though, as a later illustrator, who is much less well known. His name is George Adamson.*

Adamson’s work is, in a sense, much more mundane and ordinary than even Robinson’s. Robinson is, in his “mechanical” work, an artist of ridiculous things. Adamson, though, makes ridiculous things look ordinary. Like, for example, a Mayor having to take his tea in a bathtub:

The Mayor taking tea in a bathtub

Robinson’s machines look entirely plausible, and their workings are out on show. Adamson’s machinery, though, is hidden away. It’s magical, because you can’t see how it might do what it’s supposed to; it fits Hunter’s descriptions of machines that can do the physically impossible. Some of them are sinister: very 1950s in design, plain cases with the occasional dial or switch, presumably painted grey or pale green. Others are more complicated, but their working is never obvious or spelled out. They are wonderful depictions of machines which never do as they are supposed to.

The Professor

* not to be confused, of course, with George Adamson

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Infernal machines (part one)

In which we talk about a classic artist


A few months back, I saw, on a friend’s bookshelf, art books about members of the Robinson family: Charles Robinson and his better-known brother William Heath Robinson; and I resolved to write about them here. It’s taken me a while.

The wonderful thing about Heath Robinson’s work – apart from the army of identikit men who keep his machines running – is that everything looks entirely workable, in a certain sense. Everything looks as if it should fit together and run smoothly, especially with his little arrows and dashed lines to show that this moves that way, that cog turns like so, and the lever over on that side swings round to hit the golf ball over here.

The first place I came across Heath Robinson, though, I found him slightly unsatisfactory. In the 1930s he illustrated two children’s books by writer Norman Hunter, about an absent-minded inventor called Professor Branestawm, a creator of amazing, fantastical, physically impossible inventions. Robinson’s illustrations were just too possible – although they may well have worked, they could never have done everything described in the story. I was, as a child, disappointed. I much preferred his 1970s illustrator – but I’ll tell you about him another time.

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Artwork

In which things go in phases


Do you go through phases of liking different sorts of art, different fashions, as you get older?

The other day someone said to me: “all teenage boys go through a surrealist phase”. And, it’s true, I had a surrealist phase when I was a teenager. Some of them – Salvador Dalí, for example – never grow out of it.* Most do, though, and go on to other things. When I was small, I was also a Heath Robinson fan, and it took me a while to realise that he had ever done anything other than the bizarre machinery cartoons which made him a household name.**

So, did you go through art phases when you were younger? What artists did you like then that you really don’t care about now? I want to see if this is true in general, or if it just applies to floating rocks and lobster telephones.

* Magritte, on the other hand, did grow up – I assume he just had strange fetishes for bowler hats and sleighbells.

** I have more to write about Heath Robinson soon, but no time to write it now.

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