The first batch of photographs taken of the big rapeseed field at the edge of Bysing Wood. I know people have mixed feelings about these uncompromising swathes of yellow, and you might observe I’ve been working against the ‘YELLOWNESS!’ by photographing into the sun and shooting for more granular, powdery impressions. In actual fact, the rapeseed was already going over and less intense and profuse than it might have been, which helped it embed a little more convincingly into the environment around it. Ultimately, the colour, the light and the proper punch of heat made for a restorative visit and a lovely sensorial rush.
At the end of last week, at the end of the day, we went out to take in the view of a very large field of rapeseed just on the edge of Bysing Wood. I was soon lost, taking a great many photographs of the sea of billowing yellow flowers, photographing into the haze of the sun, over-exposing, and courting as much diffusion and noise as possible to produce my preference for painterly effects. The field itself was raised up above the level of the road and flanked by a steep, lush verge of the softest wild plants and flowers, a vertical garden more beautiful than any scheme I’ve seen designed and installed elsewhere. The sun was pushing into the camera through the voile of rapeseed at the very top of the verge, and the resulting light was like something out of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. In coming days, Red’s Kingdom will be awash with golden fields; in advance of that, enjoy these postcards from the edge.
In addition to taking photographs of various pebbles for my Kick-About No.28-inspired short-film, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach, I needed some more impressionistic imagery too, images that could speak to nostalgia, memory and space. In the week I was due to take these photographs, it was doing nothing but rain, but then late one afternoon, the weather broke, the sun shone and the beach fairly glittered.
A few weeks ago, I shared the dispiriting news that the University for the Creative Arts had announced plans to withdraw from Medway, shuttering its campus at Fort Pitt, Rochester, in September 2023. UCA also announced its intentions to excise its provision of Further Education from all campuses.
The range and candour of comments on the original Linkedin post speaks to concerns, felt locally and nationally, in regards to the responsibilities of education providers to the specific regions in which they situate, and to the histories from which they’ve benefited. Many see UCA’s decision as resulting from, and now enabling too, the UK government’s strategic devaluing of creativity and all its would-be practitioners.
I’ve been reflecting on these things too. I guess as good a place to start as any is why I care at all about the fate of that brick-built colossus sitting astride Fort Pitt hill, given I left the university a little under two years ago, and have few regrets I did.
In one way, the answer is obvious. I have an attachment for Rochester. I am sentimental about it. I studied there in the mid-90s, and taught there in two satisfying chunks, once with the photography department, as a spry videographer, and later, as a greying, marginally-less spry course leader for an animation degree. In addition to these lofty academic pursuits, I also worked as barkeep and licensee at Rochester’s student bar, which taught me more about the importance of community to the student experience than any number of journal articles or workshops since. I looked after Rochester’s student accommodation, and designed and installed, wheelbarrow-by-wheelbarrow, the campus’s balcony garden – twice. I’ve painted a good number of Rochester’s walls multiple times, hoovered its carpets, deodorized its lecture theatres, and in all these unremarkable ways, sought to enhance its learning spaces for the benefit of everyone. In addition, I represented Rochester endless times at schools, at career fairs, in films and on showreels, at open days, and in concert halls across Europe and at international conferences. Most rewardingly, I worked with generations of students from the Medway area (and lots from much further afield too), and formed close bonds with long-serving colleagues and alumni.
That I remain emotionally invested in the Rochester campus is surely self-evident. But while it is certainly true Rochester feels ancestral for me, I have to ask why. The answer cannot be found in all the time I’ve given that building, but rather in why I gave that time so completely, so consistently, and for so long.
My first home was a static caravan, after that a council house. Growing up, my one-parent family was routinely poor. I failed my 12+ exam, which, according to the educational system of which I was part, meant I wasn’t promising enough to go to grammar school, and by implication, a ‘good’ university. Instead, I went to a secondary modern, where I met a range of impassioned teachers who treated the educational system of which they were part with appreciable disdain, refusing it any further power over me. That particular school, and those particular people, accomplished two things: they revealed to me there are systems of inequality baked into how we educate, and the power those systems exert is sustained by a form of Stockholm syndrome, which relies on hostages agreeing with their lot and accepting, as incontrovertible, that some children are more valuable to society than others.
As it happens, I left that school with enough A grades at A’level to go wherever the f**k I liked. Instead, I went and did my Art Foundation course at my local college, because neither Oxford or Cambridge, or wherever, was quite the place for a boy who wanted to blow things up on movie sets. Importantly, I was able to walk to the college campus from the estate I lived on, an estate, incidentally, infamous in the local press for its ne’er do wells, ruffians and ‘dole scum’.
Next, I chose UCA Rochester, or as it was back then, the Kent Institute of Art & Design. There were likely much prettier places in more salubrious parts of the country, but the course I wanted to do was there. Anyone who knows me now who knew me then will rightly baulk at any attempt to lionise that time; our particular undergraduate course was a failed experiment. That said, in and around the nuts and bolts of what I was supposed to be doing, I ended up editing the student magazine. In fact, I ended up doing a bunch of things, including graduating with a first class degree and going on to do my Masters. I remember very vividly the year two contextual studies lecture about postructuralism, delivered in Rochester’s lecture theatre, which gave me the intellectual courage to come out as queer. You might say, art school did exactly what it was supposed to do: I went in thinking about myself in one way, and came out thinking differently.
I didn’t plan on teaching at Rochester after my Masters degree. It wasn’t my ambition to teach at all. More prosaically, I just valued the relationships I’d made there, the first suggestion I should teach coming from a senior member of staff I’d enjoyed working with and admired very much. What followed was a sustained period of excitement and adventure, in part largely because I worked, cheek-by-jowl, with a team of lecturers so committed to delivering transformative student experiences, it was frankly addictive. That I ended up giving so much to the job of teaching, returning to Fort Pitt these few years later to ultimately assume the role of a course leader, is a mystery to some, who perhaps hoped for me something showier, or for whom Rochester was a nest from which I never truly fledged. But there is power too in recognising what happiness feels like when you find it, and if not ‘happiness’ as a constant state of bliss, then happiness as a simple, rather solid feeling; a feet on the ground sensation, a click.
So, yes, I clicked with KIAD, likely because it was configured in the image of my secondary school, not in terms of bricks and mortar (for there is no other building quite like the Rochester campus), but in terms of its social contract. In this sense, Rochester was configured in my image too; a space for bright young things who’d failed at things; a space for bright young things who perhaps didn’t think of themselves as such, and so a space for the righting of wrongs, a place for making things right.
As a course leader, I was often exhausted, often frustrated, but I was never once confused about my responsibilities as an educator, role model and advocate. In this, I modelled myself on the teachers of my secondary school, and on the lecturers I worked with at the beginning of my teaching career. Like them, I sought to be fearlessly kind and honest and bold, and I never forgot, not once, that the only business I was in was the business of making a difference; of giving power away to young people who often arrived without it. To teach at Rochester, because of where it was, and because of who it was who came there, was to see inequalities still at work in the lives of individuals and then do something about it.
Ultimately, the reason I went on to resign from UCA, with no small amount of anguish, was because the job roles devised for myself and others by the senior management team were unrecognisable, emptied as they were of both specialism and activism (or teaching, as some of us old-timers know it). I saw in that change the intensification of something now culminating in the closure of Rochester; let’s call it the triumph of placelessness.
After the merger, seeing the Kent Institute of Art & Design and Surrey Institute of Art & Design combine, it was marketing heresy to place-name your respective campus or make distinctions between them. That the campuses comprising the new ‘UCA’ had root-systems of their own, indigenous and site-specific, was seen as working against the ambitions of ‘brand UCA’, which was to become ‘an idea of a university’, as opposed to an alliance of different places. Predictably, most staff across the different campuses worked in stealth against the stupidity of this, as demonstrated in this oft-repeated exchange:
Me: “I work at UCA”
Me: “UCA Rochester – the big brick building on the hill.”
Them: “Oh, you mean KIAD?’
And it used to be that Rochester students graduated from Rochester cathedral, the highstreet black with the flapping of their gowns, and the city’s various hotels, restaurants and tea rooms busy with proud parents in posh clothes. The decision to consolidate UCA’s separate graduation ceremonies into a shindig at the Royal Festival Hall was taken, I guess, for reasons of cost-effectiveness, but had the additional effect of further prioritising UCA’s brand over its actual places. It was considered axiomatic that it was ‘obviously better’ to align UCA with a London location. But it wasn’t obviously better for Medway. I’m pretty sure the Royal Festival Hall didn’t need UCA’s money, and certainly not more so than Rochester’s hotels, restaurants, tea rooms, and cathedral.
But placelessness creeps in other more insidious ways too, as in the increasing disarticulation between UCA and its own disciplinarity; the little-by-little marginalisation of creative education in preference for cheaper-to-deliver business courses: the disassociation of art and design practitioners and educationalists from the running, and governing, of the ‘UK’s #1 creative university’. And while UCA’s identity crisis is deepening, it is not completely of its own making. We are witnessing an unprecedented attack on arts education, a kind of existential undoing enacted against an inarguably profitable sector, for reasons of ideological spite. That UCA is intent on remaking itself in the image of the prejudices levelled against it is ultimately as tragic and self-loathing as I was when I was ‘acting straight’.
‘Rochester was a nest from which I never truly fledged’. There is truth in that, but there is also truth in this: a nest is defined as ‘a place or environment that favours the development of something’, and in one form or another, there has been a nest for creative arts education in Medway since 1853. I’ve come to think of Rochester in precisely these terms. Certainly I nested there, and, by way of tribute to all those teachers who nurtured me, I built new nests there for many others. Cuckoos, meanwhile, are brood parasites. They don’t value nests, or who or what has made them, or indeed how long a nest might have taken to build or its value to all who used it once and all who might develop there in the future. Cuckoos are instead in the unabashed business of co-opting resources for their own advantage. Into the established nests of other birds, so the cuckoo hides its egg, and so putting all those other birds to work in the incubation of some furtherance of its own design. But before that, before the cuckoo can enact its plan, it must first dispense with the one egg standing in the way of its own.
For those of us who greeted the announcement of UCA’s closure of its Rochester campus with sadness and disappointment, it’s because we are puzzled and appalled by the university’s decision to dismantle so valuable a nest, in so distinctive an environment, at a time of demographic upturn and cultural transformation. For those of us who are angry, it’s because we suspect, despite all crocodile tears to the contrary and expressions of deep reverence for Medway, that UCA Rochester is the cuckoo’s sacrificial egg.
Sadly, with the closure of Rochester, we see very clearly UCA’s full-bodied embrace of placelessness, to which it has always been fatally attracted. Perhaps it has forever been UCA’s destiny to become the ‘Planet Hollywood’ of
creative arts business education, as it succeeds in being both ‘nowhere in particular’ and also ubiquitous.
But ultimately, what makes UCA’s decision to close Rochester so problematic is the dissonance of its own decision-making: as UCA contemplates withdrawing its commitment to the intellectual, creative and emotional development of sixteen-to-eighteen year olds, it does so in order to focus on its provision of undergraduate, MA and postgrad courses. I can only wonder from where all these sorts of more profitable students might be coming from, if no one is teaching creative subjects to young people anymore? Not from Medway obviously. But maybe from China? For even as Rochester is shuttered as too expensive to maintain after years of disinvestment, new UCA campuses are in the offing overseas. The optics aren’t great, and the messaging for UK students is worse; while UCA can find a good many reasons to discontinue its long-standing commitment to Medway, it appears to find fewer faults with outsourcing its raison d’etre to a country that, in addition to one day soon boasting a nice new branch of UCA, is already home to all those Vocational Education and Training Centres.
In the end, the pursuit of placelessness always leaves things hollow, and this one has a special name: it’s called a moral vacuum.
Something macabre for this Friday’s blast-from-the-past, with a series of photographs taken in The Ossuary at St Leonard’s Church, in Hythe. It takes an effort of imagination to look at these collected skulls and keep remembering that once, these objects were receptacles for the great mysteries of the human heart and mind.
When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach was inspired by what can be disappointing about the way wet pebbles plucked from the beach may underwhelm when they’re dry again. It seemed like an apt metaphor for visualising ideas about memory and identity, and responding to Howard Sooley’s elegaic film about Derek Jarman’s home and garden on Dungeness beach for the Kick-About No.28. So it was I set about taking photographs of pebbles in their contrasting states so I could create the slow desaturations that feature in the film. I’m not suggesting the resulting images are, in themselves, very interesting conceptually, but they do make me want to head back to the beach, just in case there’s an even fancier specimen I’ve missed!
Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film, Prospect Cottage, the prompt for the Kick-About No.28, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach began with a simple enough observation. Living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.
When I was a boy, I collected pebbles from the beach, my mother shouting after me, ‘Not too far, love’. Lost to her, I run to the sea, my hands greedy as magpies, the pebbles bright as boiled sweets. This one, no, that one! I’d take them all if I could – if only I could carry them, if only there was time. Home again, turning out my pockets, I look again at my treasures and wonder why I loved them. Why this one? Why that one, my choices as drab as Sundays.
When I was a teenager, I pretended to the lads I walked beside not to see the pebbles at my feet, the ones glossed red as conkers, the ones like speckled eggs. ‘I’ve only eyes for Linda now’, I tell my mates, ‘and for Alice at the chippy, and that big girl over there with the holes in her tights’. But alone again, unseen, I return to the shore, where I take one or two more pebbles into my pockets, sneaking them like cigarettes; and in my too-small room, I look again at all my choices, unhappy at the secret they keep of their colours.
When I went down to the sea as a man, and found myself bending again by the water, the other man who walked with me said, ‘No more shingle, please! We have a beach of our own at home, thanks to you.’ Then he laughs. ‘Just one more then,’ he says, and like the perfect silver pebble I pick from the shoreline, I’m going to keep this moment in the palm of my hand.
Now I am old, I can’t seem to tell one thing from another. I look closely at this man who brings me my food and washes my hair, and I wonder why I loved him. Why this one, I think? But I go on collecting pebbles anyway, my mother saying, ‘Not too far, love’ and lost to her, I run.
When I Was Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach (2021)
Our last Kick-About prompt was a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, an artist whose work is characterised by emptied vistas and other-worldly spaces. Inspired by Howard Sooley’s short film, this week’s showcase of new work is inspired by another improbable landscape – the beach at Dungeness and Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage and garden.
“I loved Howard Sooley’s film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about. This little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape.”
“I met Derek Jarman in about 1991 when we were both involved in a direct action group called Outrage that was campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people. He was every bit as wonderful and brilliant as you’d imagine. He was just great to be around and has remained one of my great heroes and inspirations ever since.
I came across this film by Howard Sooley a couple of years ago and I thought it would make a interesting prompt for the Kick-About, as it includes such a wide variety of potential jumping off points, as well as just being beautiful to watch. The prompt has given me a good excuse to re-read Modern Nature over the past few days, my favourite of Derek Jarman’s books. The writing includes passages about so many things; his film work, painting, sex life, reminiscences about his childhood, politics, friends, but the garden he was creating at Prospect Cottage twines around everything and binds it together. The book always keeps coming back to the garden. It’s a telling indication of his character that, after being diagnosed with, what was then, a terminal illness, he responded by moving to a wild scrap of land next to a nuclear power station and started to create a garden.
I’ve used a passage from another of his books, At Your Own Risk, to make this little film for the Kick-About. I find the words very moving and full of humanity and also capture something of his essence. His was a life well-lived and he left so much to us after he’d gone.”
“For this prompt I have some photos of things I collected while travelling and objects given by friends and family. I gather them in corners or containers around the house. They are snapshots of memories surrounding us and making our home.”
“Unfortunately, because of living out in the urban sprawl in distant lands far from home, wonderfully empty and bleak places like Dungeness are something of a distant memory. These days, the mention of Dungeness conjures up images of post-apocalyptic landscapes dotted with historical relics, and the windswept houses of but a few lone survivors, but my younger self would have perhaps rolled his eyes at idea of yet another school trip or BTEC National Diploma outing to good old Dungeness to wander around on a quiet beach for two hours without any ice-cream or fish and chips, and no way to escape until herded back onto the chartered coach.
Nowadays, I feel like it would probably be very entertaining to be sat on a beach, look out to the horizon, and not really see anything or anyone, and just watch the time pass. So here is a little graphical ode to doing nothing, from the view of my own cottage on a shingle beach somewhere.”
“When viewing Howard Sooley’s Prospect Cottage, I was instantly drawn to the opening images of the lighthouse and the water, the way those clips moved – like pixilation animation. I wanted to create a moving story using older methods revolving around the landscape of Dungeness and all its quirky unique characteristics, I also just really wanted to make something with my hands. I have fashioned a shadow puppet theatre out of old cardboard, a large picture-less frame and some grease proof paper so that I can bring to life cuttings of the characters and all the little things that make Dungeness so intriguing. While I don’t have the film to show just yet, I do have the storyboard.”
“When I saw these images of Derek Jarman’s garden, I was struck by two quite separate, powerful memories.
The first was of some photographic images by Jan Groszer that I saw in an exhibition a few years back. Jan had captured images of the “industrial heritage” of the Kent coast (i.e. the large chunks of metal and machinery left behind when industry moved on.). Those images conveyed a sense of solitary resilience, a determination to “be” whether men had need of them or not, a life which continued with or without human intervention. That same “resilience” is evident in the planting and “furniture” of the garden at Prospect Cottage.
The second memory was of my childhood. Every year, there was an Arts Festival in the town, and my mother insisted all of us kids (there were 5 of us) participated in everything: – we drew pictures, wrote stories, recited verse, did bible-readings, sang songs, and played piano – with varying degrees of skill and success. All part of the cultural upbringing of middle-class children in the Home Counties during the 1950’s. However, one category I loved was the “Miniature Gardens” competition. I still don’t really understand how it fitted in with the rest, but it was a favourite. I would use a little wooden seed tray, line it with newspaper, then fill it with dirt from the garden, or sand. Then a small mirror to create a pond; moss (for grass); a few of mother’s rather scrawny cacti, or some miniature plants from the garden (sedums, saxifrages, thyme, I think, though I had no idea what they were then) and – Voila! A miniature garden. Of course, if I could get my hands on an Airfix model hut or shed from one of the boys’ model railways (with or without their knowledge), my miniature garden would reach even greater levels of sophistication. The odd drop of water to try and keep everything alive – or at least looking that way – and then, a few days later, after ‘Adjudication’, it would all be dismantled, and anything that could be salvaged was returned to its pot or flowerbed (or model railway).
These are the memories that come flooding back when I look at Prospect Cottage and its garden. There is a randomness in the arrangements, the shingle and plant varieties are so in proportion to each other, they could be scaled up or down easily. And the house itself – well, it really does look quite a lot like an Airfix model.
So here is my miniature ‘Dungeness Garden’. It does not have a model hut, but it does have a bit of “industrial heritage” . It will not be dismantled in a few days, but it may not be completely sustainable in its present form. Think of it as a work in progress – as all gardens are.”
“Thinking of Derek Jarman’s film, ‘The Garden’ and the way he experimented with his medium… so, a small reference to this in the use of the lens from from my old Pentax, using it to tint a shot of my allotment as well as being inspired by his use of black and notebooks… all in the mix.” Notebook with Angelica and Lavender seeds.
“I rather wish I’d been passing by at Prospect Cottage in ’91, when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had enthroned Jarman and were acting out his Canonization, as a single sea shell collected would have found itself now enshrined. With some guilt I confess having a few cherished shells from around the world, and yes it feels wrong. Thankfully, times have changed, as countries forbid removal of all that is natural, so here’s a tribute to days gone by.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.
“Memories were sparked by seeing the icon in that interior view of Derek Jarman’s cottage. Derek came to give us a crit on our stage designs for Woyzeck (the play) back in 1981, at the time Caravaggio was formulating, and he was living a wonderful life in Berlin. Aids was about to change lives. He spotted my design for Boris Godunov that was much more interesting to him as I was using the icons in a filmic way and his love of Opera and Russian icons was pertinent. What an inspiring man and how lucky I was to have met him. I moved to Bristol the year he died in 1994. I am still meaning to visit his garden! So taking plants from my garden almost as actors on a stage seems relevant in some way…I had no perception before that that was in my head at the time?
Inspired by Woyzeck, where this ordinary foot soldier is treated as canon fodder and disposable. He is fed a diet of peas to see how he responded. Peas were the first food to be genetically modified. The three graces has a long history to me of the treatment of woman from cradle to grave and preservation of beauty through products. Natural ageing is like a dance and beautiful at every stage. A garden is forever in this cycle of seasons and state of change. When the first Lock-down happened in 2020, I started exploring the idea of these plant portraits painted like an icon with egg and earth.“
“In my own garden, a complete contrast to Prospect Cottage, two enormous sycamore trees rule and I look at it from the top of a hill. A woodland garden in Spring and Winter. A desert often in Summer and Autumn. Everything depends on the growing roots of the trees beneath my feet let alone the raging winds from the West mainly. I talk to my garden. The paths and rocks from the walls tell me when and where the roots are moving underneath them. As time progresses they will start to lift everything up and displace it. These snippets are the beginnings of that process in my mind.”
“Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film on Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, my short stills-based film began with a simple enough observation: living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.”
“Such a lovely prompt! I searched out an old canvas I had tucked in a cupboard for many years and started stitching straight away. I know the style of embroidery is very kitch and chocolate box – but wouldn’t you love a dream cottage like that? I also grabbed my watercolours and enjoyed splodging an imaginary summer’s garden – as I gaze out of the window at the hail stones falling…
My memories take me back to when I was about 7 or 8. I suffered badly from what I now know to be dust or mould allergies. The doctor told my parents to move somewhere with “good country air”. So we did. We moved to a small town in Buckinghamshire and into a newly built bungalow situated on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and woods. It was wonderful and my nasal problems disappeared like magic. There was a lot to do, as the house was literally an undecorated structure, and the garden just part of the field fenced off. My sister and I had to help gather as many stones and flints as possible so my dad could put down concrete paths, and gradually the garden began to take shape. However, my father had grand plans for a wall to divide the front and back. Money being quite tight we couldn’t afford the fancy decorative bricks he wanted – so he made them! He found an advert for this metal brick shaped gadget, which you filled with special cement, and when you tipped it out – hey presto, a raised pattern brick emerged! It was a lovely hot summer and I well remember rows of homemade bricks drying out. The wall my father built with them was a real triumph and people would often stop and ask how he did it!
I went to see the old bungalow recently and was sad to see it is in a bad and sorry state. The grass sways in the breeze and our once beautiful garden looks sadly neglected and unloved to say the least. However, still standing proudly amongst the weeds is my father’s wall. Happy days!”
“In my mind the Prospect Cottage prompt intersected with the Otherworld of Brendan’s earthweal prompt and then merged with my shells, collected over years of visits to the ocean. The shore is where I lose myself and meet “Not Here” and Prospect Cottage felt like it was a portal into that suspension of the normal framing of time and space. “Like landing on the moon,” as the narrator said. Most of my shells are still in storage, but I’ve carried some weathered whelks along with each move I’ve made, both to look at and draw. The spirals sing, and bring the sea to me. I drew three of them from different angles on the same page–first pencil, then colored pencil, then with a brush in gouache. I decided to add grounds. It’s not always easy to tell when you’ve gone too far, but I think I definitely did so with the colored pencils. I may take an eraser to the ground to fade it so the shells don’t get so lost. I was trying to capture the garden of Prospect Cottage. The pencil drawing was impossible to photograph well, but I like the weathered effect. I wrote words around and connecting the shells, which you can see better in the close up. These are quotes from the video, interspersed with my own observations. This one has exactly the feeling I wanted, of secret messages, indecipherable voices on the wind.The painted shells – it felt so good to get my gouache out of storage and paint with it again! – captures the colors I was feeling from both prompts–a sense both of otherness and belonging, of being just exactly in the right place without time.”
I can almost hear them
on repeat through my bones
gifts collected in the overlap of
the fluid movement that follows
what hasn’t happened yet
sheer sound waves etched in side winds
I can see them sometimes—doubled
currents vibrating against a blurred sky
like the shadow of a raptor glimpsed
between the singing of reflected light
“I’m afraid I didn’t riff off the beautiful, yet vulnerable Jarman garden – I’m sure others will springboard off that nuclear backdrop. I just ran with ‘garden’.
We have just moved to Brisbane after 10 years in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood. I wasn’t going to raid the garden for cuttings before I left, but at the last minute I ended up with about fifty tube stock sized treasures that I will try to keep alive while we wait the seven months to get access to our permanent home in Brisbane. So this vegetation arc is my garden: I took a series of close-up, blurry detail photos of these cuttings to start with. I couldn’t help but think about what I had left behind as a garden in Sydney, and why I had planted what and where, and what I had learnt. I wrote a sentence or two for four photos and layered the text onto each photo. I drifted off thinking about how impermanent the old garden was (the new Earlwood owners have a dog that I am sure will change the landscape very quickly). I partially erased the text over the images and blurred it to reflect evolution and the loss of meaning to our actions. I also put a layer of mezzotint texture on top to push back the reality of the image further. Later, I thought the text could be fractured and moved about, but only a single word in each image. I used the common name of the plant featured in each image and chopped it up in Illustrator, moving around the pieces and changing the resulting shapes. Then I added these words back into the layered Photoshop composition. But I thought if what I had done in the garden was of such a transient nature, then why include the photos in the Kick-About? I concentrated on combining the morphed letter forms of the four words in a single Illustrator composition. That’s where I ended up – with a single image.”
‘I’ve only visited Dungeness a couple of times, one being a college day trip to draw and paint back in my foundation year. I remember that day, and the other worldly feel of the place so well. In the spirit of that trip 29 years ago I’ve gone proper rough and observational here, wish I could have found my drawings from back then, I looked everywhere. I’m definitely taking myself back there this summer to do some plein air sketching…”
Courtesy of Gary Thorne, we have, as our next prompt, an evocative extract about the moon from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84… Happy landings!
Mount Ephraim is a family-owned estate set into ten acres of landscaped gardens in Faversham, Kent. We’ve visited there many times, and these photographs date from one particularly perfect late summer afternoon in 2009. The light was hazy and magical, washing out the colour and softening everything it touched. Not pictured is the tea and cake we ate on the terrace overlooking the long lawn and topiary, or the sweet melancholy of a season ending.