‘Connected by a Thread’
This month I am preparing to exhibit a large Cyanoptype that I made during the Pandemic at St Andrew’s Church, Shifnal. It will be the first time that the piece has been seen publicly as I made it at a time when communal spaces were off limits. Chris Thorpe, the vicar there, plans to use the piece during the Good Friday Liturgy.
During the first lockdown I went on daily afternoon walks to Highbury Park near my home in Kings Heath, south Birmingham. Life felt unsettled, destabalised, strange and weird. Normal reference points - the routine of work, the company of friends, trips to the shops were stripped away and I felt vulnerable and reflective. In the words of the musician Nick Cave, written at the start of the first lockdown, ‘Our sudden dislocation has thrown us into a mystery that exists at the edge of tears and revelation, for none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.’
Like many, I found a sense of grounding and reorientation in the immense beauty of the natural world around me. The park which I explored daily had once been part of the estate of Highbury Hall, the Victorian ‘country’ residence of Joseph Chamberlain the politician and Mayor of Birmingham. In a corner of the park a large Southern Magnolia tree shed large, generous leaves that decayed very slowly, rotting down into a gauze of fine veins. These leaves spoke to me of the intense beauty of life, alongside its fragility. Not knowing why, I started to collect them on my walks and soon had hundreds of these delicate, gossamer-thin skeletal leaves.
Later that summer I started creating ‘blueprints’, or cyanotypes, an early photographic process first used by Victorian botanists such as Anna Atkins to record plants. I placed the leaves on to light sensitive paper and exposed them to the sun, creating a photographic impression of the leaves in negative - the veins appearing while out of a deep blue. For this 3 metre high piece I connected the leaves by their central veins and, after experimentation, a simple vertical line of them felt like the right composition. Many of the leaves are hanging upside down, reminiscent of beads of dripping tears. Their delicate latticework of tiny veins also recall the bronchial trees of human lungs. Here is breath struggling, leaves/lungs broken, damaged, half-there….the faltering breath of life.
There is strength in this image too. The connected leaves in negative are, for me, suggestive of the interconnectedness of all life in all its precariousness and fragility. Here is a kind of core, a spine of connected vertebrae, something raw and essential enduring after certainties have been stripped away.
‘Connected by a Thread’ detail
Cyanotype on 410gsm Somerset velvet paper
In recent weeks I have been developing colour studies for a new commission. I will be soon be ready to move on to larger canvases. I am enjoying the gradually lengthening days and increased light levels.
My client loves the colour orange and I have been taking colour references from Strelizia, the glorious South African Bird of Paradise flower.
Birmingham and Sandwell Different Strokes
For several years Lever Arts have been working with Birmingham and Sandwell Different Strokes. Different Strokes champions peer support for younger stroke survivors and supports members in achieving an active recovery throughout their lives. During the Pandemic the network has been, and is, vital in providing a lifeline to stroke survivors living in the City. COVID has meant that people living with stroke have been more isolated than ever before. Over the past two years it has often been very difficult for people to access the therapy services that they need, it has also been challenging for stroke survivors to socialise and develop supportive relationships.
In January Lever Arts worked with Birmingham and Sandwell Different Strokes to submit a funding proposal to facilitate more family art workshops, something that we have partnered on previously. We are hopeful that more art sessions will be able to take place this year.
Wake Up - Preparing for Greenbelt 2022
Lever Arts is looking forward to Greenbelt Festival . Over the August Bank Holiday weekend (26th - 29th August) Greenbelt will host a multi-arts festival programme of music, visual and performing arts, spirituality, comedy, talks and discussion. Greenbelt is committed to the arts, faith and justice and to its underlying values of tolerance, dialogue and hope.
Lever Arts is part of Sew Far Sew Good - a family art collective. We work with brother-in-law and artist Phill Hopkins and sister-in-law Susie Hopkins (a primary teacher with a special interest in art and the imaginative nurturing of children’s spiritual lives) to devise art workshops for the Children and Family programme at Greenbelt.
We are excited by this year’s ‘Wake Up’ theme and by the prospect of returning to the Festival at beautiful Boughton House.
Harbours and Havens
December was a time of reflection and of looking forward to 2022. Becky Morse-Brown (Art Therapist) and I have been preparing an online ‘Creative Quiet Morning’ titled ‘Harbours and Havens’ for Spiritual Companions, Accompaniers and Directors in the Diocese of Derby. The morning, which will take place in late January, is inspired by the life and work of the artist Alfred Wallis and will include a visual introduction, time for practical art making and opportunities for sharing. Alfred Wallis went to sea as a young man, became a marine supplier and then, in his seventies, started painting ‘for company’. Wallis is now recognised as one of the most original British artists of the twentieth century. His harbour, lighthouse and voyaging themes will provide starting points for our own creative response and spiritual journeying on the day.
A journey by post to Myanmar
Some of the people who have ordered Do the Little Things boats have got in touch to share the stories behind their boat’s journey with me. With their permission, I am sharing a message that I received recently by someone who sent a boat to a friend in Myanmar.
“In 2006 a friend and I were invited to travel to Myanmar (Burma) to train people living around Lake Inle who had no provision for education or teachers because they had been displaced by the military junta. With the help of a young man called Tun Shwe we travelled around the villages in boats that are uncannily similar to your golden boats. For the next 10 years we retuned for a month at a time, working with students to develop their teaching and English language skills. Sadly, we haven’t been able to go to Myanmar for the past few years, due to the pandemic. We really wanted to send a boat to Tun Shwe, but parcels sent in the past have always ‘disappeared’. To our delight and amazement, your beautiful little boat arrived safely, and Tun Shwe has taken it to show our friends in Myanmar. This is so symbolic to us and is equally symbolic to our Burmese friends to know that it has come from England and know that they have not been
forgotten during this very difficult time. It’s truly a miracle boat - thank you!”