One of the things guarding against the prettification of my home town is the presence of Brett’s aggregate factory slap-bang in the harbour. With Charles Sheeler’s flattened abstractions in my sights – this week’s Kick-About prompt – and likewise his use of colour, I went out to photograph the factory buildings, with the idea of collaging them, so moving quickly beyond this first act of recording them.
Whitstable is celebrated for its skyscapes. and on this day, the clouds were so much lace and the light was pin-prick clean. Had my camera been old school, I’d have anyway plumped for a polarising filter by which to pull more drama and detail from the clouds; in the instance of these images, I polarised my images in post and licked my lips as the skies offered up all this tonal range and texture. The dystopian vibes of these photographs diverge at once from Sheeler’s calming expressions of modernity; my photographs remind me of sets from science-fiction movies; they’re all a bit Metropolis and I don’t mind saying I’m very happy about that. I walk past this factory all the time; it’s never felt this cinematic before.
Textile artist, Sheila Hicks, inspired our last Kick-About together, and it was all soft, cushiony forms, meshes and string. This time out, we’re keeping company with Charles Sheeler and his crisp, clean expressions of modernity.
“I really love the work of Charles Sheeler. How exciting it must have been to live during the 1920s and 30s when industrial buildings provided such a wealth of artistic material. For my first attempt at a painting I began by sticking a lot of newspaper down and did a rough copy of some factories from a magazine, but I felt it needed to be much sharper. Secondly I used an old picture I did some time ago and revamped it. I have to be honest and say I am not altogether sure where the original inspiration came from, but the colour scheme and shapes are all my own work.“
“Sheeler’s modernist work makes me ponder the industrial revolution, the building up and tearing down of sprawling metropolises in all their in-betweens of metal, cement and beams. The shapely blocks of colour makes me think of movement, like a time-lapse of something that is always being altered. I created my film by modelling quick and dirty shapes in 3D, then tinkered with the camera to pull the focal length back and added many of the shapes in a line, through which the camera cranes. I added little movements here and there to the shapes to make things feel dynamic.”
“When I was browsing through Sheeler’s paintings, I was struck by how clean and colourful his painting is, while his subjects are often grim and grubby industrial sites. What’s more, many of his works look like exercises in perspective. Amoskeag Mills 2 particularly caught my eye. A few weeks ago, I decided it might be time to own up to my ignorance and signed-up for an art class to learn some of the basics. (See the effect you guys have on people!). 3 weeks into a 14 week course and perspective is much on my mind, worrying about horizons, vanishing points, and 2-, 3- and multi-point perspectives. I don’t know what the opposite of a ‘Precisionist’ is, but I think, as an “Im-precisionist”, I’ve found my genre!”
“This was interesting, as I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t come across Sheeler but liked the way he shifted between painting and photography… Wish I could have spent longer exploring the theme, but had to be satisfied by a couple of off-centre shots (lying on the ground) of the Arts complex where I have my studio.”
“One of the things guarding against the prettification of my home town is the presence of an aggregate factory slap-bang in the harbour. With Sheeler’s flattened abstractions in my sights, and likewise his use of colour, I went out to photograph the factory buildings, with the idea of collaging them, so moving quickly beyond this first act of recording them. Whitstable is celebrated for its skyscapes. and on this day, the clouds were so much lace and the light was pin-prick clean. Had my camera been old school, I’d have anyway plumped for a polarising filter by which to pull more drama and detail from the clouds; in the instance of these images, I polarised my images in post and licked my lips as the skies offered up all this tonal range and texture. The dystopian vibes of these photographs diverge at once from Sheeler’s calming expressions of modernity; my photographs remind me of sets from science-fiction movies; they’re all a bit Metropolis and I don’t mind saying I’m very happy about that. I walk past this factory all the time; it’s never felt this cinematic before.”
“Charles Sheeler created great strongly composed images. So I took off with my camera around Brisbane city and really didn’t take any inspired pics. I did take some textures; a couple were of grey black hoardings on a building site, which I overlayed with a shadow (reversed to be white) of a collapsible clothes dryer. This combination looked like search lights over a ‘war sky’ whatever that is. Thus I lost sight of Mr Sheeler and fell down the war rabbit hole – in Australia there has been so much news coverage about defence spending and new nuclear powered subs – having trouble with government’s spending of tax payer’s money on weapons, while our less wealthy citizens go homeless. Any how, I kept layering parts of my city photos and distorted or modified them and finally added a couple of quick Illustrator drawn figures.”
“I was immediately drawn to Sheeler’s Against the Sky a Web has Spun, as much for the title as the painting. I made a cosmic collage, simplifying the forms, and embroidered a web on top, then wrote a short poem to accompany it.”
remargined our limitations turn inside out expand beyond the webs we build to house infinity
I’ve spent a good deal of time getting lost in fields, as for me, there is nothing more transportive than a wall-to-wall vista of meadow grass as its colours and textures are transformed by the breeze and by the light. I can’t recall where this field is or what I was doing there back in 2015, but I would have been drawn to the grid lines of the fence against that strip of rapeseed and the cross-hatching of the grass in the foreground.
A second batch of Sheila Hicks-inspired forms providing the answer to the question no one ever asked about what happens if you load shredded cardboard with Christmas pudding-sized dollops of filler, before wrapping the whole lot in an organza bag… Produced for The Kick-About No.79, these objects are a great example of working with the stuff within easy reach and being led by doing. I wasn’t sure what I was making at the time, but the moment they were ‘there’ in front of me, all the associations crowded in and likewise ideas for replicating this kind of thing – one day – at a much bigger scale.
I can’t recall exactly where this photograph was taken, except it was one of those lovely large houses with lovely large gardens somewhere in Kent, and it was a sunny day in 2015 and we were just mooching about enjoying the view. The breeze was doing nice things to the surface of the water, with the flowers of the water lilies looking very tastefully scattered. Click!
I was very drawn to Sheila Hick’s fabric marshmallow-y boulders, but knew right away I didn’t have the resources or the space to emulate the scale of Hick’s installations – the prompt for The Kick-About No.79.
I did have at my disposal a large bag of crimped, shredded cardboard used for packing out parcels and I wondered if I could work with it in such a way as to produce some Hicks-inspired forms, while maintaining some of the material’s frizzy, explosive qualities. I flattened out some fine mesh bags onto a table, and on top of that, layered the shredded cardboard, and then dolloped some quick-drying filler onto the cardboard, before gathering the bag up around the mixture and tying the whole thing off like an improbable dumpling and setting it aside to dry. When I unpeeled the bag, I was left with these unravelled sculptural forms, which I then photographed against some solid colour in another nod to Sheila Hicks. Lots of fun at the arts and crafts table this week!
Our last Kick-About was a celebration of three year’s worth of mucking about with materials, making, inventing, re-imagining and re-purposing. As a result, I suspect some of us have spaces in our homes beginning to pile high with ad-hoc accretions of creative stuff. In terms of scale, none of us may quite have reached the heights of this week’s prompt, the giant textile installations of Sheila Hicks, though one of us is certainly pushing it…
“I have no idea why i have never seen the work of Sheila Hicks before and other women artists of this particular era! What a great discovery. Striking and powerful. Having worked myself within vast architectural spaces and in theatre, I felt a kinship with her idea, attention to spaces and love of masses of colour. I like to see through the colours and the mixing of the layers in relationship to one another as they move, held within a skeletal structure in architectural space. I have been collecting these netting pieces that hold fruit and vegetables and the metal tags that are wound round the end that have been waiting in the wings for an opportunity. Their restriction of colour bothered me at first and yet it was a release to see what i could make with them. They are bouncy and can be twisted into rather wonderful shapes that brought me back to something more organic and lively. Playing with the results on the computer to find new colours was fun if a little bit frustrating as my tech knowledge is rather limited! I was intrigued though about how the overall texture looked more like a tapestry. More food for thought!“
“It’s always harder for me to figure out what to do for a textile artist prompt. I know and like the work of Sheila Hicks, and especially admire how she has never become stuck in one way of working. I opened a page in a book I have of her work at random to a commission she did for a NYC Wine Bar that consisted of roughly embroidered circles – they look stuffed, but I decided to paint a mandala and then embroider the entire surface. My colors are brighter than hers, and my stitching is less irregular, but I think the feeling of it is the same. Start stitching and see what happens.“
“Looking at images of Sheila Hicks’ work, I was struck again by how liquid textiles can appear, and it was with that in mind I started hanging bits of yarn from a garden plant support. I became totally absorbed in the task and consequently spent far, far longer on it than originally intended, but I am quite pleased with the way it turned out.”
“I recently heard the origins of May Day (around “Mayday”), as in the nautical context, and it was one of those ‘Of course! Why didn’t I know that?’ moments. Anyway, as we’re in May, I decided to combine that with very basic weaving and sort of create a vague story… at least, in my head, as I was re-reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, so the darker fairy tales were ‘woven’ in. The other is improvised!”
“Being the slacker that I am I didn’t find a great deal on the web about Sheila Hicks so I settled on savouring the online visuals and contemplating the art of weaving. Having little in the way of craft skills, I took to the computer for some photo weaving. My idea was to take one pixel wide samples from a thousand photos and as they would be both landscape and portrait oriented combine them into a roughly square image resembling woven fabric. To make them a bit softer looking, I used the warp filter on each strand. I thought I would end up with a soft greyish mass – which I did, but when you zoom in you do get fibres of colour so I think the only way to see it properly is as a high resolution printout. I feel happy to have looked at all the photos – a bit of a self-portrait in a way.”
“I was very drawn to Hick’s fabric marshmallow-y boulders but knew right away I didn’t have the resources or the space to emulate the scale of Hick’s installations. But I did have at my disposal a large bag of crimped, shredded cardboardused for packing out parcelsand I wondered if I could work with it in such a way as to produce some Hicks-inspired forms, while maintaining some of the material’s frizzy, explosive qualities. I flattened out some fine mesh bags onto a table, and on top of that, layered the shredded cardboard, and then dolloped some quick-drying filler onto the cardboard, before gathering the bag up around the mixture and tying the whole thing off like an improbable dumpling and setting it aside to dry. When I unpeeled the bag, I was left with these unravelled sculptural forms, which I then photographed against some solid colour in another nod to Sheila Hicks. Lots of fun at the arts and crafts table this week!”
“After seeing this prompt a couple of weeks ago, I went and looked up Sheila Hicks’ work online. I would love to see it in person to get the full impact of those huge shapes and the wonderful colour. The pieces I was particularly drawn to were the ones that seemed to be flowing down from the gallery ceilings, they look alive. For my response, I’ve drifted rather a long way from Sheila Hicks’s joyful and exuberant big shapes and drawn something distinctly malevolent-looking over a photo of an interior space I found in a magazine. I think in artspeak terms one could say the black things are ‘disrupting the space’. It looks more like a horror film than a soft sculpture, oh dear!”
“After having to buy a new washing machine, I kept some of the styrofoam that came in the packaging. Call me a hoarder all you like, but I knew I could make something out of the grooves and shapes warped into the styrofoam mirroring the details of the machine. So I spray painted the styrofoam black and bought a bag of colourful cotton pom-pom balls to design the set of this miniature Hicks installation then lit it ablaze with some dramatic lighting and documented the process. Things took a more sci-fi, macabre turn when I decided to use some red gels.”
“It amazes me how Sheila Hicks could have so much time and patience to make her huge fabric sculptures. After looking at her work I embarked on making some giant size Suffolk Puffs. This takes up quite a lot of material so I decided instead of fastening them together I would just place them at random to make pleasing patterns. In some cases I added some denim strips to finish the design. It is the sort of thing that has infinite possibilities if you had the resources and I rather enjoyed just playing around.”
“I knew very little about Sheila Hicks and it was quite inspiring to look at her work and read about her life. Colours, texture and layering, what more can I ask? So here is my output, an image made by multilayered glass, my default material after inks. Although it is not soft and warm in the way of Sheila’s choice of textile, it is still very tactile.”
Also known as umbrella pines or parasol pines, the proper name for these iconic Roman trees is Pinus pinea, photographed here in 2018, and looking like streamers of greenish smoke or low-lying clouds. Amazing things.
This moment in my blogging year does remind me a bit of when I used to put all my beloved He-Man figures on display, so I could just sit back with a purring of pleasure, satisfied by the simple act of amassing stuff: or when VHS was a thing, running my fingertip across all the lurid spines of my very many horror videos, finding comfort in the accruing and arranging of like-minded things. Mostly, however, I experience a funny sort of relief because even though this past year of Kick-Abouts has been busy with everything else, this latest miscellany suggests I am bloody-minded enough to hold on to all this thinking, doing and making even when circumstances are far from conducive. When your hands are full, you have to be careful what you put down. Looking back, all these little undertakings feel like spells cast for warding off world events and other slumps, like bobbing up again after intrusive thoughts of sinking and staying sunk.
I owe much of my buoyancy to the other Kick-Abouters, for The Kick-About is a lot like lighting a candle and putting it in my window, and then looking out and seeing all these other candles appearing one-by-one – and oh! the comfort and encouragement that brings!
Welcome to this anniversary edition of The Kick-About – a fortnightly creative challenge in which a loose community of artists make new works in a short time in response to a specific prompt. Gathered here, and in no particular order, are selections from one year’s worth of online exhibitions, with works inspired by a richly eclectic range of starting points, so everything from drum solos to volcanic eruptions. To everyone who participates, regularly or otherwise, a great big thank you for all your time and energy. I enjoy your company and relish your creativity and very much hope we continue to meet in the park over the coming weeks and months with our jumpers on the grass for goalposts. Happy anniversary to you all!
“I find percussions and drums quite fascinating. When I was heavily pregnant with Sophie, we went to a Kodo Drummers gig. I didn’t realise it would be quite so loud and powerful, I could feel the sound waves going through me like through air, I could barely breathe. I was quite worried about Sophie, but she started kicking madly as soon as the sound stopped, which I took as a sign of appreciation. So here I am, back on the heart, and the heart beat responding to the drumming.” Acrylic Inks on watercolour paper, 25×17 cm.
“As always it’s hard to pick a favourite from the past year as the kick about has taken me in places I never imagined. I decided to go with the sound suits Kick-About, purely for the automatic response of chucking a load of sequins into a wok and waving a few LED lights about and not knowing if the output would translate to what I had in mind. I remember feeling so enthralled with the process but contemplating if I had captured anything worthwhile at all; but upon importing the footage to my laptop, the videos I thought were duds turned out to capture the same primal element I got from the soundsuits. The edit was an absolute dream and all in all one of my favourite Kick-Abouts thus far.”
“On seeing El Anatsui’s incredible sculptures I felt exceptionally inspired to make. There’s something about his process of turning discarded relics of human mass consumption into objects of such beauty that resonated with me. Over recent years I’ve collected bucket loads of plastic from various beaches in Kent, never really knowing what to do with them, suddenly when I laid a bucket full out on the work bench, I started pulling them together and adding some order, which is what I got from Anatsui’s work, order brought to valueless trash. As the wired-together plastic was only about a foot across, I cut out and painted a wooden frame, as if the silhouette was intentional.”
“Reflecting back, Kick-About No.74 provides good example of the ‘pleasurable’ creative struggle when handling materials which resist, go against a personal inclination, instead ask for respect to limitations. You just cannot bend something your way, instead its happen-chance and an unpredictability which often rewards you. Which is the joy of KA – in joining up with like minded KA-ers in pursuit of surprises.”
“There’s much to explore in response to Peake’s work, and I don’t think I can do it on one hit, so let us see where it takes me. But to begin with, it has taken me back to two mediums I loved in earlier years but have neglected more recently. Obviously this is all about the line. But it’s also about embracing a medium that can’t or won’t be fully controlled. I worked pretty small with these and just enjoyed making lots of small doodles. Perhaps some more finished work will come later.”
“I was instantly drawn to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s line drawings that he produced much earlier in his career, and felt perhaps there was a way to capture the immediacy, simplicity and instinctiveness of those sketches with the modern digital tools I typically use. Channelling the spirit of an earlier Kick-About, Herzog’s Dancing Chicken, which also evoked manic movement and energy, I just applied the same techniques but attempted to reduce it down even more. I think there is an entire series to be made of these at some point!”
‘Whirligigs was a challenge for me in that it called for a three-dimensional response. I had the idea right away to do something with birds. But it took a while for me to come up with the rings within rings to incorporate motion. I wanted to hang all the birds, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. But I like the way the outer mandala turned out, with all the birds moving at once contrasted with the birds in the center on their strings. I can’t tell you the steps I took to get there – I just keep going until I get something that works.
“Sometimes you push and push for the birth of an idea and sometimes they tumble out of the dark recesses. Tumbling out were my Halloween themed Long Vehicle images responding to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – home to Jim Morrison etc. I had taken consecutive photos passing a long load truck on a road trip and combined them with other photos into a gothic narrative within five deconstructed letterform frames. Whoosh!”
Phil Cooper – The Kick-About No.66
“I’ve enjoyed the Kick-About posts so much over the last year and I’m gobsmacked every time by all the amazing work people create in just two weeks. One of the many things I love about this forthnightly challenge is how it gets me doing all kinds of things I never usually do in my creative practice. The prompts themselves, and the timescale which stops me overthinking, push me into trying new things and not worrying so much about whether what I’m making is ‘good’. I’ve found it so rewarding and the experience has opened up new ways of working for me.
For this ‘best-of’ edition, I’ve chosen the mask I made last autumn in response to Turner’s Vesuvius painting. If it hadn’t been for the Kick-About, I can’t imagine I would ever make a demon mask out of a paper bag and get my husband to photograph me wearing it whilst wandering around an industrial estate at night. It was great fun and I’m looking forward to trying all kinds of other weird and wonderful things for the Kick-About prompts to come.”
“How this piece came about is when I became part of a postcard exchange mail group and was making my first group of cards to mail out. I looked to a book I have called Art Deco: Design Fantasies by E.H. Raskin and took illustration #7 as my starting point for inspiration. From there, it took on a life of its own. As I put it together, I imagined two spiny sea creatures, cephalopods, if you will, reaching out for each other. Of course my mind operates in metaphors and I see them as two people who ordinarily do not do well with others but still need the comfort of human companionship, reaching out to each other. The companionship is represented by the little pink in the center.”
“It’s hard to resist that textural ink approach Peake was famous for. I recognised some of Peake’s work but didn’t have a great knowledge on who he was, or what his work amounted to. It’s wonderful to see that even in his more observational work, that gothic storytelling still feels present.”
“I have had great fun with many of the Kick-Abouts this year, but the Nick Cave prompt was undoubtedly one to remember. It was certainly the only Kick-About to leave me literally breathless with laughter!”
“I suddenly remembered my idea this morning – and the fact I had not actually made it – so I rustled this up whilst still in my dressing gown. Cemeteries gross me out and my experiences have been grotesque and disorientating. I’ve lost two loved ones to the cold empty box of the same French grave. The absurdity of putting bodies into boxes into little stone houses. A conveyor belt of bodies. Trapped in boxes. In stone houses. The voice says: Dans une boîte / Perimé / Tous ensemble / Détaché : In a box / Expired / All together / Detached.”
“I very much admire the work of El Anatsui and his amazing way of using recycled items such as bottle tops and turning them into fabulous artworks and metallic cloth sculptures. I was trying to think of a way that I could emulate such wizardry and came up with the idea of weaving some of my stash of old ties. I used some black crinkly wool for the weft threads, which I stretched over an old picture mount to make a loom. Next, I cut the most colourful ties into long strips and threaded them in and out as the weft threads. I must say I was rather surprised at how a few vividly coloured gents’ ties (from the last few decades) could transpire to resemble a wonderful African fabric, but weirdly they do!“
“I was about eight (late fifties) when, on a Saturday afternoon, the treat was a trip to the circus that had arrived in town. It was traditional in every way, clowns, band, ringmaster, plumed horses and glamorous riders, acrobats, contortionist, flying trapeze, performing chimps, lions and tamers, tigers and camels. My great Uncle Arthur was a forward agent for circuses, and I believe he supplied some free tickets. By that time, he had taken over a zoo and kept chimps and a lion called Sultan, amongst others animals. The zoo, and an accompanying Archery Stall, was in Ramsgate on the far end of the sea front, and at the time, part of the complex of amusements known as ‘Merrie England’ (later ‘Pleasurama’). I doubt if it was that merrie or pleasurable for the animals. Welfare and safety concerns were soon to radically change the idea of circus and zoos. For me, this Kick-About is about nostalgia, and the memory of Merrie England, the circus and zoo, and great Uncle Arthur…”
“The one I have chosen is KA 56 For drummers only. This piece was truly compelling and i think it continued into paint in the following KA when I travelled around Cornwall. The anticipation of allowing myself to travel further for the first time during Covid unleashed my imagination. I need to take more journeys!”
“My choice dates all the way back to the short story I wrote in response to a particular painting by Toulouse-Lautrec featuring a clown performing alongside a little black pig. As revenge narratives go, it’s as black-as-pitch and I suppose there’s a part of me that glimmers away quite darkly beneath my otherwise mild-mannered and restrained exterior. I recall a snippet of an interview with the late director, Wes Craven, talking about Hitchcock, saying how Hitchcock presented as an avuncular, rather urbane character, but how there was something feral at work beneath it all, and I’ve always liked and identified with that description. Certainly, it just felt liberating to be in the company of this story’s motley crew of showbiz misfits, and to allow things to run their course – however despicable.”
“This was a perfect prompt for me as I’ve long been a fan of Eliot’s work, so pulled out my battered and very old copy of his poetry to refresh my mind as well as do a little online research. The effect of WW1 struck me as the dominant first layer followed by references to sexuality, love and its unpredictable consequences; so with the help of an extremely scratched record, my dansette record player, iPad and a lot of soil and cardboard I cobbled together what I hoped would be (as near as possible) some kind of atmosphere of war and its encroachment on everyday life, as well as the post-war period of the 20s/30s when The Waste Land was published… it was a great way to spend Easter!”
And just like that, the wheel turns and we’re into another cycle of serendipity and playfulness, and we’re kicking things off with the sumptuous large-scale installations of Sheila Hicks. ‘Happy New Year’!