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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What do Artists do on their Holidays? (this is NOT a food blog!)

This me Kirsty E Smith on holiday. This is a photo of a special moment.
Two favourite books from my childhood were Richard Scary’s ‘What do people do all day’ and ‘Busy, BusyTown’. I especially loved the quite surreal illustrations; the banana-mobile and much more. There is also now a great BBC4 television series called ‘What do artists do all day’
Illustrations from Richard Scarry books
But here’s my question; What do artists do when they are on holiday? 

My own art is about people, connections and personalities so I suppose it isn't all that surprising that although I managed to get my dose of architectural concrete (another passion) in on my relaxing and sunny Greek holiday, what is actually much more special to me, is the unexpected and special human connections made while doing the usual everyday things. 

Yes on this holiday I climbed over a mountain in extreme heat, dived off a sailing ship, swam in thermal pools, scuba dived for the first time and even fitted in a ride on the local fun (land) train. But actually whatever exciting things we humans do each day we still have to do the normal everyday stuff. Eating is pretty everyday and necessary and shopping for food is normally a job that you just have to ‘get done’. 

However when shopping in small independent shops it is completely different. People go to those shops not only for a product but also for an experience and when it is a small personally run shop they also want to feel that their purchase is appreciated (and I should know because I did set up and run my own artisan cheese shop in the past.) 
This is me way back in 1991
Yes you can sell top quality products but great products with (on top of that) a memorable human interaction is so much more. This is what makes life worth living! 

And what better than when a customer who appreciates these values buys from an artisan shopkeeper who loves to supply an authentic product to appreciative customers. The connection is so special but also so difficult to explain but actually it should need absolutely no explanation. 

When the relationship works it works perfectly; it does not have to be explained. 
Enthusiasm is a word that is often associated with me. I can’t help it I really am genuinely enthusiastic about so much in life (and quality artisan bakery products is just be one thing that I get excited about!) 

Santa Irini Bakery Perissa, Santorini, Greece (Yes it really is open 24 hours a day!)
perusing the biscuits
But on reflection the root of this excitement is when I feel that I have met a fellow human being who I feel a deep connection with. Someone who takes pride in their work, works to the highest standards, values interaction with other fellow human beings and who works with integrity. 

So that’s the emotional part of this blog post over now on to some factual information and more photos!

Over the seven days of our holiday we went into the Santa Irini bakery not once a day but by the end of the holiday actually twice a day. We bought all sorts from flat rustic white rolls for lunchtime picnics, bread for breakfast, beautifully soft and delicious apple cake and chocolate cake. We ate spinach and feta pie by candlelight when we were too tired to cook ....or even eat out and we had fab picnics in unexpected places where a hunk of bread was perfect with our homemade tzatziki. We also enjoyed biscuits with jam and coconut and sprinkles to boost us before our scuba dive but also to make the airport queue much more bearable. 

take the locals' advice do not do this climb in the blazing sunshine
feet up
mid climb sustenance
Got bread and Swiss army knife...Sorted! 
we shared this...honest!

The best way to use up 'spare' greek yogurt? Buy some some delicious apple cake and chocolate pie.
Going into the Santa Irini bakery was not just about buying home made food to sustain us but actually we (my children Bryony 20 and Dominic 17) and I all enjoy human interaction such a lot that when our big baker (we quickly named him The Hairy Baker - see postscript for explanation) came round the counter to speak with us and to shake hands with us it was completely clear that he too is someone who appreciates human interaction and contact with people who connect on an emotional level. He knew that our enthusiasm and appreciation was sincere. 
a lovely moment
let's talk about bread, merino wool vests and much more
The 'Hairy Baker' is called Spiros and the bakery was first set up by his ...father... grand father...or even great-grandfather?  Anyway, it has been running since 1937 and not only is it an excellent bakery but it is also open 24 hours a day! 
This man does not sleep!!!

My father Andrew Kyle Imrie Smith died only a few days before this holiday. He was 91 and an amazing and very inspirational man. 
Amongst the many things that he did teach me is that talking to strangers is absolutely crucial to making sense of our (short) time on this planet. 
As a child it used to be annoying and frustrating when dad stopped to strike up conversation with a complete stranger but actually what I learned from seeing what came from these spontaneous conversations is actually what fires me up now in my own life and also what (not surprisingly) I have passed on to my own children. Already Bryony, my daughter, has started writing a blog- One Great People which (amongst other things) is about people who have touched her life while being a student in the North East of England and my son Dominic found it only too natural to join in a community Apple Crumble Celebration only weeks after we had moved to a completely new city- Sheffield.  

Explanation about the Hairy Baker reference:
In the UK there is a cookery programme called The Hairy Bikers 
It is presented by two men who not only are good at cooking but also ride motor bikes and are hairy (mostly on their heads and faces) so it seemed obvious to call Spiros The Hairy Baker. And finally when I did speak to Spiros I was especially interested in his vest. I had already guessed (correctly) that it was made from merino wool. Merino wool is chosen by climbers and people who need protection from heat and cold. I am a farmers’ daughter, I have sheared sheep, I teach felt-making and textiles so yes of course it was of interest to me; I knew the importance of Spiros’s merino wool vest for doing his everyday, ‘extreme sport’ of baking for tourists ....and locals too.

PPS. This is an experience that I hope to repeat. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Gardens of Sheffield: This city is growing on me but not in the Miracle-Gro sort of way!

The rugged beauty of a Sheffield garden- concrete and roses!
Considering that I am such a chatty and effervescent person people are often surprised that really I am quite shy and often get tongue tied. I've been wanting to write this blog post for ages but what on earth has held me back?

I moved 75 miles north from The Midlands to Sheffield at the beginning of October 2014 and although it was a well researched move it was also a move of faith i.e. faith that Sheffield was the right place to be.

Although originally from central Scotland I have lived in the Midlands for most of my life so uprooting and moving to Yorkshire after many years was a BIG thing and not something to be taken lightly. But It seems that my research paid off. 

I moved to Sheffield because (in no particular order)  I love the hills, it has amazing countryside so close-by - I live just a few minutes walk to open fields and and only a 10 minute drive to the Peak District proper, it is full of artists, it is often referred to as the biggest village in the UK and actually this works for me as although I like being within a short train journey to London I also like to be able to integrate into an art network fairly quickly. I am constantly amazed that although I feel that I have only been here for just  ‘5 minutes’ I keep bumping into people that I know... or at least I know a bit! 

And also a big thing which I didn’t know before but now believe to be true is that the Sheffield art world isn’t a snobby and hierarchical one. Basically as Lord Bunn (his title does nothing!) said, there is no hierarchy in this South Yorkshire city and if anyone tried to pull 'artworld rank' then they would very quickly be put in their place, plus be instantly laughed a too. I love this! 

We are all artists at at various levels of achievement and experience and are all aiming for a (moveable) point on our own future horizon. Perfect... we are all just people doing our own creative thing and also hopefully scratching each others backs and generally being encouraging and supportive of each other in our day to day lives of 'getting there'.

So what is this blog post all about?
Really the biggest and most burning thing that I want to share with you is GARDENS OF SHEFFIELD.

To be fair we were looking at houses from Easter to July (the sunnyish time of the Great British year) but when we moved up to Sheffield it was the beginning of October and the beginning of the dark damp winter months; certainly not the time of year to admire gardens. 
So these photos are my own newcomer’s shock-horror reaction to GARDENS OF SHEFFIELD.

This is a picture dairy and one that to be honest has actually occupied a LOT of my creative brain since moving here. It is exciting to be some place new and to be regularly tipped up by visual surprises. I am delighting in all this and am enjoying the regional differences to be found even in a country as small at this. 

When house hunting how different a house and its garden can look in real life. Images on www.rightmove.co.uk can be helpful but something that looks like photoshopped super-real grass on a photo is ... yes very likely to be fake grass when you get to view it in real life. And also a garden that is described as ‘easily maintained’ can actually turn out to be shed/garden or a completely decked garden. 

It became a bit of a thing with me when house hunting; I mean I had always assumed that gardens had grass and some plants but how wrong I was proven to be.

 The garden of one of the houses that we viewed when moving. The husband had decked it and installed a shed (with curtains and wi-fi) in just one weekend when his wife was away. She didn't seem to mind at all! 
A peculiarly Sheffield type of garden! 
I call this hardcore easy maintenance; slabs 'n' concrete with a token gesture of thorny shrubs. 
Another interesting peculiarity to Sheffield terrace houses is that (almost) no one uses their front door. You quickly learn to read the signs (some not so subtle) as to whether you should attempt to knock on what appears to be the front door or to find your way through a gennel and across some neighbours’ gardens to the back door.

Don't enter by this door or the (plastic) bush gets you! 
It's complicated ... but there is an easier way in.... by the back door.
Landscaping; it's a lot harder than it looks 
I love the optimism of palm trees in South Yorkshire.
Always good to try and brighten things up in the dark winter months.
These plastic daliahs always make me giggle.
Being amazed and delighted by yet another spectacular sunrise-  something I hadn't anticipated. 
Sheffield never a dull moment and absolutely the right place for someone with an adventurous nature... that’s me!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Rolling together Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and The Magic Roundabout. It makes sense to me!

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd 'Diorama' at Nottingham Contemporary 
Moments where you are reaffirmed that you are on the right artistic track are like buses; you can wait ages for one and then several come along all at once.

Or maybe it is that they suddenly make sense all at once.

I was lucky enough to get over to Nottingham Contemporary to see Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s first solo exhibition at a public gallery in Britain. I managed to visit not once but twice.. 
On my first visit I had only 30 minutes to do a whirlwind visit. 

However I was so excited and so struck by the completely luscious and gorgeously sensual aesthetics of the work that I knew immediately that I would HAVE to get back before it closed.

Claws from Marvin Gaye Chetwynd's Catbus. These claws are worn by several performers when her Catbus is part of a performance. The Catbus was originally a character in Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, My Neighbour Totoro. 
On my second visit, in the show’s closing week, Chetwynd’s work’s uplifting effect on me hadn’t dimmed at all. It was fantastic to be charmed by Cousin Itt (from Addams Family fame) and also good to see the Brain Bug (during one of it’s mid-day animated phases) but for me the absolute winner of the show was the sequence of scaled-down dioramas of film sets. 

Surprised by Cousin Itt
The Brain Bug... a character taken from the, not very successful, sci-fi film StarshipTroopers 
This time I sat and listened to the soundscape which accompanied the dioramas and it was fantastic! 
For me the obvious fun that the two people giving their interpretations (both in basic schoolboy French - and the English translations of this) was so much fun. 

The fragile and precarious nature of the construction of the Diorama somehow just makes it all the more appealing. 
It is obvious that despite the serious issues that she tackles in her work (personal debt being one current theme) Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is very happy (in-fact she encourages) a good dose of irreverence and humour. Her work can be read on several levels so if you simply love textures, materials and a sense of the dramatic then her show at Nottingham Contemporary was perfect to visit. But if you are also intrigued by how an artist can make videos, performances and sculptural works which reference, low-brow B movies, bad sci-fi movies and juxtapose these with classical Greek philosophical treatises and literary classics then Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is the artist for you.

“She is at home with the classics and with popular culture – and she uses one to give new meaning to the other.” 

Performance is at the heart of Chetwynd’s practice so actually everything that was in the show at Nottingham supported either previous performances or was used in The Greenroom, the performance that was specially commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary. 
You can watch an excerpt of the performance online. 

In the exhibition booklet it says that Chetwynd likes the excitement of problem solving when on a low budget and also the sense of autonomy and spontaneity that comes from working on her own or in a small team. 
One of the gallery attendants told me that Marvin Gaye Chetwynd has a troupe of people who work with her, these are people that she has made an emotional connection with- people who are on the same wavelength as her. I understand this approach as her work is so individual and definitely energy driven and I can see why people want to not just watch it but to also be part of it. The gallery attendant also said that the members of her troupe are very loyal and many have worked on several versions of her performances and filmed pieces.

Her work has an energy that I am very definitely attracted to.

I also like when we don’t know the whole story I enjoy when things are not completely explained; when there are loose ends in a story or performance. I have been an avid fan of street theatre for years and very definitely a fan of the absurd.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd says, “I like Carnival Comedy and Nonsense”. Well me too!

I am drawn to the anarchic and the surreal and so (as I have said in previous blog posts) my touchstone in life is The Magic Roundabout. After confessing my love of the Magic Roundabout I always very quickly add, “Not the animated film but the original Magic Roundabout, the one with Eric Thompson as narrator.”

I now have a video player which I have kept for the sole purpose of being able to watch my VHS Magic Roundabout tape. If I am ever feeling sad or low the completely nonsensical Magic Roundabout stories help me regain my equilibrium. Of course life is messy and ends are rarely neatly tied up (as in sentimental Hollywood films or 'CSI Miami' - or 'CSI shitty' as I prefer to call it.) 

My precious Magic Roundabout VHS tape
I identify with the cheerful, optimistic and mischievous Brian (the snail) and a favourite Magic Roundabout moment is when Brian is wearing his headphones and acting as an air traffic controller ‘trying’ to guide the runaway flying carpet (which has kidnapped Dougal and flown away with him). But Brian isn’t trying very hard and is actually loving seeing the grumpy and cynical Dougal getting dizzy as he is whizzed about on the carpet. 

Moments of mischief are at the heart of the Magic Roundabout because the narrator Eric Thompson (being a bit suspicious of the French) took it upon himself to rewrite the original French scripts that went with the puppet production.

“His calm tones, at odds with the hyperactive animation, lent a curiously mismatched feel.”

This 'not quite rightness' of the Magic Roundabout is one of the things that makes it appeal so much to me. 

As a visual person most I often make connections based on visual qualities rather than themes. When I encountered Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s show, ‘The Encampment of Eternal Hope’ at The Baltic, Gateshead UK in October 2012 I almost felt that I was in an alternate version of The Magic Roundabout; the simplified spikey inflatable trees were the link in my mind. 

I felt like a small Florence in the Magic Roundabout garden. 

Me (Kirsty E Smith) enjoying the participative aspect of The Encampment of Eternal Hope
My view from one of the Encampment of Eternal Hope shelters 
Although Neil Bromwich and Zoe Walker’s work was on a serious note looking at ways of coping with possible future apocalypse - (Making apocalyptic predictions for 21 December 2012 – the end date for the Mayan Calendar – as an imaginative catalyst, the project envisages a post-apocalyptic utopian community, a kind of ‘garden of earthly delights’) you can’t help but be lured in by the colours, simplified / childlike forms of the trees and the meditative and so possibly calming and hopeful vibe of the processional performance (videos of which were playing in the gallery space) that were part of the show. 

Photograph from the Baltic website 
Rolling these all together in my mind I ask myself what is it that I am drawing from these three disparate creative works and artists? 

My thoughts on this so far are: 
- positive energy, 
- a maverick approach, 
- anarchic humour 
- eternal hope.

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