No man’s land

Jeff Piggott’s poignant sculpture, “No man’s land” is one of 10 finalists in the 2014 National Sculpture Prize. This is the artist’s statement.

No man’s land is intended as a meditation on war and conflict. The theme comes from the anniversary of the commencement of the First World War and each of the 101 cylinders represents a year up to 2014. As objects they could be seen as artillery shells stacked behind the lines, or the rigid anonymity of fallen soldiers and civilians. They are also intended to symbolise the repetitive industrial process of slaughter in the Great War and the many conflicts that have occurred since. Violence terminates lives prematurely and scars, traumatises and dehumanises those that suffer as a  consequence. A sculpture carries no answers, no resolutions and acts merely as a visual statement. Over time this work will take on the colours and textures of its surroundings as it is absorbed by nature just as the remnants of numerous wars are taken back by the land.

Broomhill 2014 NSP 202

No Man's Land by Jeff Piggott
No Man’s Land by Jeff Piggott

I felt this communication to be relevant and comprehensive with none of the nonsensical jargon that kept cropping up in many of the other artists’ statements in the NSP brochure. As today is the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, I thought I’d share Jeff Piggott’s words. He has a blog which has lots more interesting information about what he discovered when researching for this piece, and how he made it and finally assembled it at Broomhill. I wish him the best of luck when the judges come to decide on the winner of the 2014 National Sculpture Prize.


NSP winners

The winners of the National Sculpture Prize were announced on November 1st. All entries are exhibited at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens in North Devon.

The Judge’s Winner is “Myriad” by Sam Zealey



Public Speaks Winner is “Familiar” by Dorcas Casey


A Special Commendation was awarded to Sungfeel Yun for “Energy P-04”

Paper darts and arts

For much of 2012 St. Anne’s Chapel, in a shady, cobbled walkway in the centre of Barnstaple, was wrapped in scaffolding, undergoing extensive restoration works. Then in September last year it was unveiled as an Arts  and Community Centre with a vibrant programme of events, music and exhibitions.

St-Annes-Chapel-BarnstapleDating back to the early 14th. Century, St. Anne’s has enjoyed previous incarnations as (among others) a Chantry Chapel, when a trust fund employed a priest to sing masses for the deceased whose wills supplied its revenue. This chantry was abolished in 1585 after the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry XIII, and the assets were acquired by the mayor of Barnstaple and his associates. It was later used as a grammar school, a Huguenot place of worship and a museum. The Huguenots were French Protestants who escaped from religious persecution in northern France and arrived in North Devon from 1685. They were warmly welcomed in Barnstaple and given the use of St. Anne’s Chapel on Sundays only, as it was being used as a school during the week.

During the renovations many items were found by the builders and contractors under floorboards, in the eaves and behind the wood panelling; these items were carefully collected as it was clear that they had been lost or hidden by former occupants and could be of historical importance. The items were all carefully logged by the then manager, Peter Doel, and gradually a clearer picture of the building’s past began to emerge. Some of the found objects were marbles, dried peas, nuts, beads and paper darts; these darts were tipped with broken pen nibs and had obviously been thrown up into the wooden rafters by schoolboys. Other interesting items were found in cavities in the exterior walls known as putlogs; these holes were left after the scaffolding from the original build had been dismantled, and over the years, builders have stuffed various items into the holes. The objects found in the putlogs include scraps of plaited withies which would have tied the scaffolding together, and more recent empty cigarette packets.img031

After the restoration, The Arts Council England and Barnstaple Town Council commissioned Devon artist, Lesley Kerman, to make a piece of art to be installed at the chapel which would illustrate its rich history. With the assistance of children from two local primary schools, Kerman designed and made three clear resin blocks incorporating some of the objects found within the building, and other items which would symbolise notable citizens or groups which had strong links to the chapel. One such person was the celebrated playwright, John Gay, who attended the grammar school which used the chapel until 1910. The crocodile model in the Centre Block represents a character in his controversial play, “Three Hours After the Marriage”. The oyster shell in The East Block was probably left from a worker’s lunch and was found wedged between the shaped stones which made up the arches above the windows and doors; it would have ensured a perfect fit.

The completed resin blocks are fitted into three putlogs in the chapel walls, and have become permanent parts of the fabric of the building. A book explaining the provenance of each item in the blocks is available to buy in the chapel itself.  Entitled “The Secrets of St. Anne’s”, it is a well written and fascinating history of the chapel and costs £4 (its ISBN 0953173062).


I was paying my second visit to St. Anne’s today in order to see an exhibition of paintings, collage and ceramics inspired by the sea, by local artists Fiona Bates and Jan Sears.  I could easily have left there with armfuls of purchases; if only I was better off! I made do with a couple of postcards but some nice memories.BTC St Annes Chapel -2

Croyde Market….it’s back!

Our school, and my employer, broke up for the summer holiday yesterday (deep joy for all involved) and I took the opportunity of a free day to visit Croyde Village Craft Market in the neighbouring village. The market has been running in and around the village hall for several years, but after a change of management last year has been transformed into a thriving, buzzing hub of creativity twice a week smack bang in the centre of this busy tourist and surfing destination.

Poster illustration by Jo Isaac who is also the market manager

Today there were about two dozen stalls selling locally crafted items such as silver jewellery, driftwood frames, fused glass decorations, printed t-shirts, felt slippers, swimsuits, photographic prints, turned wood and much more. I spent a fascinating hour browsing and chatting to the craftspeople about their wares, and spent more money than I should have.

My favourite stall was selling the beautiful bowls, plates and other items made by wood turner Dave Tozer who has a gallery and workshop near Barnstaple, our nearest town. The woods in evidence were ash, elm, oak, beech and maple, but I thought the most beautiful pieces were made from burrs, the knobbly lumps which sometimes occur on the sides of trees but never develop into branches.

Spalted wood
Spalted wood

The spalted woods were also interesting; stunning patterns and colours develop in wood which has been cut and left on the ground for a year or two where various fungi and parasites get to work on it. Once the dishes, plates, bowls and other vessels are turned, Dave polishes them or treats them with vegetable oils which makes them suitable for food use. They just scream out to be picked up and caressed!

I bought a lovely shallow bowl made from burr oak which I plan to keep in my bedroom, possibly for my rings.

… click on any picture to view large …

A Space for Art

Once a year (if I’m lucky) I get to accompany one of our school’s art teachers to GCSE Moderation Day – representatives from four or five local schools bring a pre-requested sample of their pupils’ artwork and it is all re-marked by the group. This will show up any anomalies in marking and ensure that all the work is looked at fairly. It is one of my favourite days of the year; a day of wonderment and delight at the amazing talent of so many of our fifteen and sixteen year olds. Today was that day.

In the inspiring setting of Ilfracombe Art College, atop a hill overlooking the town and the stunning coastal scenery, seventy one portfolios were scrutinised, representing four schools in the area. Amid the oohs, aahs (and a few ooers), helped by copious amounts of hot tea, consensus was reached and minor adjustments to marksheets made where necessary.

We finished in time to make a quick tour of the ‘A’ Level exhibition upstairs where students of eighteen years were showing their work of two years which they hope will get them a place at university. It was stunning.   …click on pics to enlarge…

I have decided that I will make my own portfolio and enter the GCSE next summer (or the following one if needs be) as I didn’t have any art instruction after the age of fourteen. Watch this space!

A level art Installation

Forever Changes

Michael Brennand-Wood’s retrospective (and prospective) exhibition; I liked it so much I went twice

Today I visited The Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Bideford, North Devon. The current exhibition is the work of brilliant textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood, and showcases both new and previously unseen work, as well as some of his finest pieces from a career spanning  40 years.   click on pics to view large ….

Brennand-Wood 022Brennand-Wood attended Manchester Polytechnic from 1972, where he had originally intended to study Fine Art. He said, “It struck me going around the various areas (of the department) that textiles were akin to painting in 1910. It was uncharted territory open to experimentation, and, to my eyes, very exciting, so I changed course and opted for Embroidery.” From the start Brennand-Wood impressed his tutors with his intellect, focus and articulation and especially with his natural curiosity. “He was alive with ideas and possessed the energy to pursue the majority of them”, said his tutor, Judy Barry. Love_-_forever_changesStarting with stitches on fabric, he soon moved on to experiment with many different materials such as perspex and wood, found objects, stone, metals and resins.

The title of the current exhibition is taken from the  1967 album of the same name by American rock group Love. It hints at the way Brennand-Wood’s work is ever-shifting and developing whilst retaining its essence.

El-Rayo X, 1981
El-Rayo X, 1981

The earliest pieces on display, from the late 70s and early 80s are built around a layered trellis of wood which is painted and collaged with names and phrases cut from paper text. Then a labrinthine network of silk threads, copper wire, strips of bright fabrics and occasional objects is built up over the framework. The result is a rich “tapestry” which at first looks chaotic, but the longer you look, the more patterns emerge.

What Goes On, 1995-6
What Goes On, 1995-6

The next group of pieces are made of inlaid materials: fabric in wood; wax and ceramic in wood; copper and brass in wood. The designs, mainly from the 90s,  are new imaginings of lacework designs. The colours are vibrant, the textures intriguing. The wood bases are painted and sometimes embellished with resin, marble dust, acrylic and stitchery. Some of these pieces are on a very large scale and it was necessary to stand well back to take in the whole thing. I think this group included my favourite works in the exhibition.

In the second room, the work took on an altogether darker feel. Many pieces were concerned with warfare and dreams; covered in sinister forms, some vaguely humanoid and some that made me think of viruses or hostile biological organisms. Here Brennand-Wood has used machine embroidery to create a huge array of designs including the aforementioned beings and skulls, but also the most beautiful butterflies and flowers in jewel-bright colours.

Holding Pattern, 2007
Holding Pattern, 2007

There are tangles of painted or wax-covered toy soldiers, military medals, scorched wooden miniature mannequins, button badges bearing black and white images of wars around the world, embroidered patches bringing to mind bombs and military crosses and mass graves, then suddenly a bright flower peeping from behind a screaming face brings a little hope. Two large flags, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Flag, are called “A Flag of Convenience  – Behind the Lines” and “A Flag of Convenience – The Sky is Crying” respectively, and are embroidered with words from the language of modern warfare, most of which are confusing to the layperson. For instance “Negative Health Consequences” – could that mean death? or “Enhanced Interrogation” – torture?

Stars Underfoot (4 of 25), 2001
Stars Underfoot (4 of 25), 2001

Moving round to the next section, the mood immediately lightened and Brennand-Wood’s work began to look decidedly floral. Bright embroidered flowers with shiny beads of silver and glass brought to mind the firmament, except after a few seconds patterns started to emerge. These pieces are mainly from the early 2000s. We also saw that a new technique of attaching embroideries and button badges on the end of metal stalks which spring out towards the viewer was starting to be used more. These were rather like pincushions, except the head of each and every pin was a visual delight. There was also some lovely photographic work where images of real flowers were repeated over and over in complex patterns which reminded me of a kaleidoscope. They do it with mirrors, you know!

A sequence of pieces inspired by dreams was the final section of the exhibition.  Strange globular forms with faces and limbs of sorts cropped up again and again, inhabiting a weird desert dreamscape with blooms which I thought could be exploding bombs.

Feel Flows, 1996
Feel Flows, 1996

As I went into the giftshop a vibrant yellow board caught my eye. It was a single panel from a larger work called “Feel Flows” and was so much like the War is not healthy… poster which appears in my sidebar, it stopped me in my tracks. My picture of it does not really do justice to the glowing yellow of the real thing.

I purchased the book Michael Brennand-Wood  Forever Changes  in the giftshop which is expensive at £25, but a large format book of over 200 pages, full of photographs of the work and lots of information about Brennand-Wood’s exhibitions, commissions, awards, consultancies, publications, residencies and more.

You can find Michael Brennand-Wood’s beautiful website here. Catch the exhibition in Bideford until April 19th 2013.

Going Large : mural painting with Steve PP

mural 001I work in a school where the management is supportive of the arts. The Expressive Arts Department thrives, with performances, productions and workshops happening frequently throughout the school year. While our current education minister, Michael Gove,  is doing his best to stifle artistic, spiritual and technological learning with each new government directive (you can read more about this here) our pupils don’t realise how lucky they are.

Three sheep grazing contentedly in the school garden were painted by a group of 16 year olds a couple of years ago. A giant daffodil in reception was decouppaged by a group of talented 13 year olds last year. An all singing all dancing production of Calamity Jane was last year’s drama show and this Easter we’ll be tackling A Man for All Seasons. On Armistice Day, a 15 year old trumpeter played The Last Post up on the school roof; it was probably the most moving performance of that piece I’ve ever heard.

steve PP & buster
Steve and Buster in the studio in Woolacombe

To continue this tradition of excellence in the arts, this week the school has welcomed local artist and plein air specialist Steve Pleydell-Pearce into the fold. Steve PP, as he is best known, lives and paints a few miles up the road in Woolacombe, where in the summer months he can be found near the seafront next to The Red Barn selling his paintings, driftwood art and tikis and often playing ukele at his old blue campervan, The Waikiki Tavern (Renault Trafic – he’s looking for a replacement if anyone has one lying around. No MoT necessary). Steve has spent a week in school working with groups of children aged from 10 to 14, most of whom attend our school and others who will be joining us in September when they graduate from their primary schools. They have painted a huge mural on plywood boards which will soon be attached to the exterior of one of our school buildings.

mural 018The theme is Coastal Sports, and celebrates the many and varied activities that kids in North Devon get up to on our beautiful beaches, such as surfing, beach volleyball and surf lifesaving. Painted in exterior masonry paint, the mural should be able to withstand anything the weather throws at it.  click on any picture to view large ….

Day 1 was mostly concerned with getting the colour-blocking done to cover the background with paint. The very youngest pupils were involved in this stage.

Mural day 3 004Day 2 was about adding some texture and shading to the large areas of sand, sea and sky. Shadows applied below the boat and the wave really helped those features to jump out of the picture. Most of today’s artists were 11 and 12 years old. It was a challenge to get the paint dry before adding more layers. A hairdryer and small fan heater came in very handy.

Mural day 3 017Day 3 was when things really started cooking. Light and shade was added to the sky and clouds and a lot of patient blending and dry-brushing was called for. The sea was given a lot more depth colour-wise as well as some glassy reflections. The boat was shortened somewhat to accommodate a window in the wall which will eventually be home to the mural. The skate ramp got some texture and shape and all outlines were generally crispened up. Today’s artists were all in year 7 (11 and 12 years old). Now the background was fully completed, Steve drew some of the characters ready for the next day’s session.

mural day 4 009Day 4 Steve was joined by pupils in year 8 (12 and 13 year olds). The eight characters were painted in as well as the surf board and its foam trail through the wave. By the end of the session the mural was very nearly finished. It just needed a volleyball net, some shadows on the sand and some facial features. It’s great to see how it has developed over the week, and its causing quite a buzz amongst the pupils, who have been taking sneaky peeks at the progress.

Day 5 saw the final final finishing touches applied by pupils in year 9, mainly faces and highlights. They also had an extra task; to draw and paint four 8ft.x1ft. boards with tikis. Tikis are carved wooden or stone carvings of humanoid forms originating from the South Pacific. Our versions are two dimensional, and will be used to clad a rather dull concrete pillar at school.

In its temporary home. (Black bags of sand are preventing slippage)

The whole process of this weeks project has been captured as a series of digital images, one taken every 30 seconds, and those will be edited and made into a stop motion film.

For more  on Steve PP you can visit his surfy website and his blog and online shop for fine art. Steve’s work can also be seen at The Frame Shop in Braunton, North Devon and at Waves Ceramic Studio at Woolacombe Bay Holiday Park. From time to time Steve runs workshops and courses in North Devon and also takes commissions. The pupils and staff thoroughly enjoyed having Steve at school last week; I couldn’t wish to meet a more positive, good humoured, witty and all round top notch human being. What a brilliant way to start the year! Efkharistó!

Tikis for the low down on the designing process and the technical stuff.

(Warning: I don’t advise taking a skateboard to the beach. The sand plays havoc with the wheel bearings)


Glass fusing with Clare Fisher

North Devon artist Clare Fisher recently spent two days in the Art Department at school, running glass-fusing workshops with a total of 100 pupils aged 14-16. All the students learnt how to cut and grind glass and each one produced a beautiful fused glass coaster to add to their portfolio.

Clare discovered glass fusing during the final year of her Illustration degree at the local college of Further Education and fell in love with the beautiful translucent effects she was able to achieve, and the tactile quality of her finished pieces. Now Clare has her own business, Clare Fisher Glass, and exhibits her work in galleries throughout the region and further afield, as well as selling bespoke and collection pieces from her website.

So, what is glass fusing?

Well, basically, it is a method of layering glass to make designs, patterns or pictures, then firing it in a kiln at an extremely high temperature (around 800°C) so that the separate constituents melt and fuse together into one.

The type of glass we used is Bullseye Glass, which is specially designed for fusing and comes in a huge range of varieties including clear, coloured, opalescent, tinted, iridised, textured, dichroic, granular (frit), stranded (stringer) and confetti. By shopping wisely at a local glass supplier we were able to offer our students a good variety of glass products as well as copper foil and glassline pens and keep within our tight budget.

The students just had to come up with a design to fit with their current project (Africa for some and Nature for others) then cut their glass as required and assemble their work of art. All the glass component pieces were held in place with glue then the coasters were stacked carefully into the kiln. The glass was fired in five loads in our regular clay kiln which had been programmed especially for its new found use.

We love the end results. The coasters are bright, inventive, tactile and beautiful. In just 2 hours, each one of our Art students learned a new skill and made a lovely addition to their portfolio of work. A small sample appears on this page.