Our last Kick-About together was illuminated by Marie Menken’s experimental film, Lights. Made in 1966, the glow coming off Menken’s film is as much powered by a certain nostalgia for a particular time and place, as it is by electricity. Our attachment to artifacts of the past, and commitment to keeping and collecting moments-in-time, however fleeting, is explored in this week’s showcase of new work created by an eclectic community of creatives in the short space of two weeks. Enjoy.
“In 1959, my Mother took an emotional transatlantic flight from Vancouver to visit her folks in Bournemouth, whom she had not seen since 1951. On return, she brought home ‘memorable somethings’ for each of us four boys. At age seven I was thrilled with owning Sooty, hence today he is the most cherished of my possessions. My little 62 year old muse posed as part of ‘paintings of a morning’ achieved across the 31 days of August 2020, which mostly referenced local produce. This past week, this unassuming 20 x 20cm oil on board portrait was on exhibit in Whitstable’s The View Gallery, alongside 40 of my paintings.”
“Hmmm… Just one word, eh? “Souvenir”. First thought was of those plastic lighthouses from the Isle of Wight filled with bands of different coloured sand; or a “Kiss Me Quick” hat from Blackpool. (Don’t know why. I’ve never owned either of them.) Second thought was the original meaning of the word, “to occur to the mind”. And the third thought was… my little red tartan box! Never having been the sort of person to let one word stand where a few hundred words might happily swarm, I hope the following words and images impart to you something of what my little red box means to me.”
“This is via a friend who has a friend, who bought the watch back from China (obviously a while ago), so not my own souvenir but one I couldn’t resist! The star goes around, and I think the arm must wave on the hour… brilliant. ‘Keeping Time’, graphite and watercolour on paper.
“We recently had a wonderful day visiting the Queensland Art Gallery, which was showing a selection of master works from the Met. Great show. Halfway through it they offered a number of activities to clear away the visual overload, including a costumed life drawing station. I took the weight off my feet and did a quick sketch – my souvenir from the show. Since then I’ve been layering the sketch over some brightly recoloured charcoal layers. A bit of fun for me to do.”
“Here is my souvenir. A shell picked up on some holiday, turned into an etching a long time ago when I was studying under my maestro, now turned into a memento of another time, another place, another life…” Drypoint 15 x 12 cm.
“The prompt of souvenir seemed perfect: my daughter had given me a small sketchbook, and every day I sat on my beach chair with my feet in the waves doing a drawing, and then writing a haiku to accompany it. The sketchbook would be my souvenir.
On the last day the ocean was quite rough, due to Hurricane Henri passing by, so I sat far up on the sand, where only a small piece of a dying wave occasionally brushed my toes. Holding my sketchbook up to let the watercolor pencil drawing dry I was suddenly totally upended by a rogue wave that covered me completely. I stood up, soaked, clutching my pencils in one hand, but watching my sketchbook being pulled under and out to sea. I will replay that image in my mind for a long time, maybe forever. When I got home, I channeled my emotional turmoil into neocolors, drawing from memory the ocean that was now fixed in my mind. The sketchbook drawings were so much more beautiful though. At least that’s how I’ll always remember them.”
I could not look at it from be fore or aft er, only the angle of gone, dissolved, empty, vanishing–
not just the material thing that had been dispossessed, but what it represented– a piece of myself,
never to be recovered–and here I am left watching, clinging to impermanence like water and wind
“I mentioned before I am a bit if a hoarder, and therefore this prompt was rather a godsend to me. I have had some fabulous holidays but one of the most exciting was a trip to Arizona – the highlight being a trip to Tombstone. It was a fascinating place, and kept in it’s original state with a saloon bar, horse drawn carriages, and, of course, the OK Corral. It is said that ‘Death never took a holiday in Tombstone’ My souvenirs include copies of some old posters and a booklet listing the graves in Boothill Graveyard. The headstones include descriptions of how some residents met their demise, such as ‘Hanged by mistake,’ ‘Wagon rang over his head’ and ‘Discussion over fastest way to draw’. Life was tough in those days! Another treasured poster is an original photo of Geronimo and friends in the battlefield in 1886. The scenery of Arizona is breathtaking and I have attempted to paint the Chiracahua National Monument where Geronimo and his Apache band once found refuge.”
“I’ve got a number of scars on my forty-six year old body; the ubiquitous BCG crater on my arm, a hernia scar from when I was a tiny baby, a ‘hole’ between my eyebrows where I picked a chicken pox spot, and more recently acquired, a scattering of other facial scars following a particularly nasty attack of shingles back in the winter of 2015. You might call these dents and puckerings my ‘souvenirs’ of the wear-and-tear of just being alive.
One of my favourite scenes in Jaws (1975), is the sweet, funny moment when grizzled shark-hunter Quint compares war wounds with the more academic oceanographer and shark expert, Matt Hooper. The two men trade stories about the various different ways various different things have taken lumps out of their respective flesh, leaving them with anecdotes written into the surfaces of their bodies. Meanwhile, Chief Brody looks on, deciding against sharing his own battle scar, because, we suspect, his ‘souvenir ‘ is unlikely to impress. I know how Brody feels. With this in mind, I’ve imagined myself as being as colorful a character as Quint, and with just as many stories to tell about terrifying encounters and near-death experiences, and all of them leaving their mark on my body. These imaginary encounters derive from the spectacular dangers of my adolescent life, or rather from my formative confrontations with a host of larger-than-life fictional perils found in paperbacks and on VHS cassette tapes…”
“I don’t know about anyone else but I have felt a shift in the air with things starting to feel more autumnal. I may have been watching too many horror and slasher films, but for this prompt, my head went straight to the macabre…”
“Near to my place here in Japan is a lonely, tucked away and somewhat overgrown Buddhist temple. There are thousands of these all over the country and they are always filled with interesting statues, iconography, mementos and architecture that give us a glimpse and a reminder into the history of places and people. I braved the 32 degree sunshine and mosquitoes so that I could capture the moment of that place and perhaps in the future, look back and be reminded of hot and humid August afternoons somewhere far away from home.”
“Apart from my huge collection of pods I have brought back, or been given, from all over the world my inspiration for this Kick-About came from a specific experience that continually informs my work. I’ve spoken of it before in a previous KA. It’s that time of year again for the storms to transform the coastal dunes around the island of Isle D’Oleron. It will always mark that change for me between Summer and Autumn. So I am taken back to the dunes, and those battered fences that are twisted and turned by the raging sea.”
“I was a bit bamboozled by the dancing chicken clip from ‘Stroszek’ having never watched the film. So I opted for some zany, silly visuals, featuring the chicken, duck and rabbit! I call it ‘Head Banger Stroszek.’“
“I first decided to draw while watching the video on a roll of rice paper that I had. This was a fun exercise, worth thinking about for other videos in the future. Then I did some monoprint outlines, based on those sketches. I tried to monoprint color on top, but that was not as successful, so I improvised with paint. Only the chicken with the blue background did not have a printed outline, it was all drawn in neocolors. There is no cohesiveness to this week’s work, but chickens are endlessly fascinating to draw. So maybe that’s the take-away.”
“I love the dancing chicken. Never would I have thought… Funnily enough, I am just painting a rooster, even if its meaning is a bit of a departure from the prompt. It all started from various kick about prompts actually, tree of life, symbols etc. Here is a bit of my tree of life, more like a climber really, with roots in the sea going up in a dreamy night sky, and my rooster daughter (by the Chinese horoscope), perched on it. Looks like a rooster singing to the moon now.”
“With this task I found myself in the realms of abstract again and fancied concentrating on the marks made by the chicken as it scratched and danced about. I decided to crochet the shape of a chicken, duck and rabbit footprint and stick them onto pieces of card to use as stamps. Next I used acrylics to paint the background and added some contrast printing using recycled packaging. After this I just proceeded to enjoy myself with ‘chicken foot ‘ stamp to make a happy dancing type of pattern. In fact I think there is actually a dance called Chicken in the Straw – so I have renamed this painting ‘Drunken Chicken in the Straw’. Plus had to finish with a little chicken quip – ‘I dream of a better world… where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned!'”
“I was a bit focused on other little projects – though chicken dance was lurking in the back of my mind – originally I was contemplating an image of someone crossing the road, lost battery chicken-like in their smart phone. My final offering quickly took off from a couple of weird things I did and the news feeds bombarding us in Australia on the delta variant, to the point where it feels like we never had alpha at all and that delta just appeared out of the ethers. We Australians really have ourselves to blame for not deciding to bite the bullet and take the not best option astra zenica for delta’s current launch in Sydney. Anyhow, my attempt at a voodooish/distressed thought-bubble.”
“This scene really drew attention to just how bizarre a chicken really is, dancing aside. I realised I’d never really studied one before. Great opportunity to do so, so I took a tonne of screen shots from the film and picked some charismatic head shots. Getting to grips with the mixer brushes in Photoshop now, almost tailor made to paint fur and feathers.”
“I think Werner Herzog used the dancing chicken as some kind of bleak metaphor for the tackiness and the emptiness of modern life at the time. Personally, I wanted to elevate the chicken to something more elegant, while capturing its essence and joie de vivre. In the end, I settled on these black and white images, which were somewhat inspired by an encounter with a rooster and some charcoal during my college days.”
“I got very excited when I first saw this prompt, because I just love chickens! The range of colours and patterns they display in their plumage; their ability to scuttle about very busily, and then stop stock still – like a screen freeze – before resuming their previous activity, as if nothing had happened – and the fact they combine such dignity with such comedic flair. I just love ‘em! But, I have never attempted to capture motion in yarn before, let alone dancing hens. I soon realised crochet does not lend itself easily to “action shots” so it took a lot of head scratching and moaning and groaning before I found a way forward.
I found photos of chickens running, and then got my techie friend to overlap and tessellate them. From that I tried to identify the key shapes that said “chicken”. (See attached scribbles.) From that, I decided on tail shape, coxcomb and legs, and then tried to develop those into a pattern that might suggest movement. I chose colours in keeping with the folksy, children’s story mood of the original prompt. Here are the results. Chicken Runner, anyone?“
“I was struck by the folksy, pop-culture qualities of Herzog’s dancing chicken, and keen to investigate the movement of these performing animals too. The rather forlorn spectacle of these animals, in boxes, existing to entertain through repetitive actions got me thinking about mechanical toys, so I acquired a mass-produced tin toy clock-work chicken and set about trying to capture its efforts to entertain me, in the form of a series of long-exposure photographs.”
“This was a challenge! So based solely on trailers and reviews, my imagination wandered towards Victorian anthropomorphy and the use of animals for amusement, (YouTube awash with examples), looking at the flea circus, kittens tea parties, besuited mice etc. The result? A chicken/human cross!The other image is a set up in my studio: a plastic figure picked up in the street against a favourite haunt in Greece. In Stroszek, the main character lands on a strange shore and never fully integrating, remains an outsider, wandering from place to place. It was this and a sense of the surreal that I was trying to capture.“
And for your delight and delectation, a bit more moving image by way of inspiration for our next run-around together, courtesy of experimental film-maker, Marie Menken, and her 1966 silent short, Lights. Hope this inspires some light-bulb moments of your own!
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
I just want to say a personal note of thanks to everyone who takes part. Producing new ideas and new work in under a fortnight brings with it its own challenges, insecurities and pressures, but if you’re anything like me, you will have enjoyed the otherwise simple satisfaction of making work, getting it done, expressing your creativity, and sharing it with a supportive community. Some of you have thanked me for hosting the Kick-About, and some of you have even worried about the work and time I may be giving it; rest assured, this is the work I like to do and I’m very happy to do it.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part this last year, and I’m very much hoping we can continue to combine our efforts as productively and imaginatively in the coming weeks. Now, just look at what you did…
“Thanks for the Kick-About. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting those Bird Ladies from Kick-About No.2. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.”
“I’ve not been as involved as others in the bi-weekly Kick-About posts, but I’ve seriously enjoyed the challenge of completely unexpected briefs. I’ve chosen to include my piece ‘Orpheus’ this week. This one stood out to me for several reasons, partly because it allowed me to flex my digital painting muscles again, something I’d neglected for a while. Also it was a powerful story that instantly brought up images, compositions and drama. That narrative aspect is something I often neglect in my personal work. This was the challenge, like I had to capture the story, as if on the front cover of book. Our hero enters the underworld, ‘hell’ bent on saving his wife ‘Eurydice’ from the clutches of the dark forces below. Everything a digital painter wants in an image.”
“Selecting KA9 is easy, as it reminds me of how important instinct is within process, as well the time span of sitting across 4 hours 40 minutes to complete a process. I trusted my responses to the music, invited in chance, kept the demon of doubt outside the door, and I enjoyed colour as an adventure. KA9 felt like a pure creative experience and it beckons me on to do more. The community of KA has been totally enriching and so rewarding.”
“Kick-About No.1 was a cathartic experience as I’m often caught up on details and reasoning. And those hang-ups can sometimes paralyse my creativity. I realise now, sometimes it’s just a simple premise, and it’s dumb fun and exploration that’s needed. And I definitely found joy and a small sense of achievement in that process!”
“Weirdly enough I’ve chosen this..a tough call but although I loved putting together the installations I only record them as 6” X 4” photos, which are then put into a KA book as a record. However, I do have my drawings, so could take a better photo, as they’re bigger! I chose this as it WAS tedious in its repetitive way, but after a while it became a form of meditation, and I was happy with the outcome, which is rare. Actually I could have chosen any as far as enjoying the process goes, so onwards to the next…” Graphite on Fabriano.
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
“The Kick About has brought me to places I’ve never dreamed of going. I’ve dipped my toes into mediums, styles and parts of myself that have otherwise been sealed off. I have learned to find magic in the mundane, while learning a great deal about films, authors, and artists, from the many prompts we have created together. I always feel inspired to see what you all have created every fortnight, so for that I am thankful to all you fellow kick-abouters for your words and creations.
In saying that, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as they all have been a joy to see flourish. One Kick-About does come to mind and that is No. 22, which was the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and with it the Pools film. The reason why it is my favourite is because of the way it came to be and the journey it took to get it to that state. I wasn’t seeking this film out. I wasn’t trying to capture anything like it, I didn’t even know this place existed. I was merely bouncing around the innards of the forestry one bitter cold winter morning when a dumping of snow was beginning to melt, and where I set out to capture the extrusion of thick snow rimmed treetops. I found all that, but I also found this film – in a trench of shallow, glistening water.
Making Poolswas a creative journey, and I’m thankful it happened in such an organic way: from finding the place and deciding to film it, to viewing the resulting footage as flawed, while still being preoccupied by it, to the Kick-About prompt providing the perfect opportunity to salvage the film into something I’m proud of.
It was a pure delve into the unknown to make something just for the sake of it, not knowing how the outcome would look but just enjoying the whole process of making this thing. I think, in its essence, that is what is so great about The Kick About and why I love being a part of it with you all.”
“At the time of the making of my Metropolis images for The Kick-About #2 I had been living in the same apartment for over three years, and for some reason had never really taken the time to explore the surrounding area with the eye of a photographer or an artist, mostly because it all just seemed very boxy and residential in a way that I have become totally accustomed to seeing every day.
However, with a lot of free time and a phone-camera in hand, I thought that surely the true mundaneness of a real metropolis could be made into something interesting somehow. After fiddling with some images, I ended up with some quite authentic looking silent film production set photos which of course really reminded me of that other Metropolis. I think they even capture the unusual atmosphere and uncertainty of the time they were created.”
“I choose this one because I managed to capture a very personal sense of nostalgia, which is something that I had been trying to crack for a while. Also, it was the first time I had been motivated to break out the paints for over a year, which is a long time, especially when I had been making work every day. It highlighted to me that I need to stronger with myself as a creative and have the fortitude to keep pushing through various blocks and it did herald a period of increased productivity. Also, it is one of the artier of my submissions…”
“The Kick-About #6 is still one of my favourite prompts, and one of the most meaningful series of paintings I have done in the last few years. It represents the beginning of a new creative journey for me, a new painting style, and, at the same time, it encompasses much of my life and experiences. For this “anniversary” I picked just one of the four, my favourite, and the first one I painted. It was originally inspired by a photograph of the Canadian winter landscape by Evelin Berg and, as I mentioned, were partly concept paintings for a short animation I haven’t finished yet. The journey, the film, the story….all still ongoing.” Ink on watercolour paper, 240x680cm.
“I have learnt so much over the last year from participating in The Kick-About, and enjoyed so many different aspects, that I found it really difficult to pick a ‘favourite’. Some pieces have stretched me technically, some have taken me into totally unfamiliar territory, some have felt satisfactorily “complete”. But one submission made me smile when it first occurred to me, smile as I worked on it, and smile even now when I read it back. I can’t think of a better reason for re-visiting it, so my ‘Favourite Kick-About’ is Field Guide to Getting Lost and The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda’.
“It’s the Five Canons of Rhetoric! I’ve chosen this one as it made me really think about my work and its origins and process. It led to the story of this Sea Heart pod that continues to fascinate me along with all the other seed-pods in my life! The journey of this pod crept into the following Kick-About as well, maybe because I can’t travel at the moment and I long to be doing so. It always refreshes my mind and creativity… apart from missing my friends in distant lands.”
“The prompt was Cocteau’s Orpheus, because of the element of serendipity: on a Covid walk, I dragged home two entwined ivy trees, saw the prompt, (not sure which happened first) something clicked, and I set about exploring the potential…”
“The KA’s have been a great way to divert my attention and have provided reason for exploration of deep buried thoughts. Thank you’s to all of you who have donated jumping off points – sometimes they resonate so deafeningly – not always at the point of conceptualising – the museum KA didn’t kick-in for me until I started putting paint to paper but then it dragged up some of the creative juices that I thought had been long gone. So I guess that makes it my significant KA moment. I love the tantalising breadth of work created by all of you. KA reveal days are always so exciting. It amazes me how you seem to tumble out great pieces or concepts. Also amazing how open you have been with background stories to some of the works. Thanks again and I hope KA can continue long after lockdown.”
“In response to the “Kick-about anniversary” (and my very small contribution to it) I have chosen to revisit my take on the Eugen von Ransonnet Villez submarine paintings.
Marine paintings have become a large part of my creative output over the last decade. As a graphic designer just over ten years ago my health took something of a wobble and the medical advice was to change lifestyle. This evolved over a few years and resulted in less use of the mouse and tablet and more the old fashioned paintbrush. It became as much as anything else a journey of self discovery. Several visual themes emerged but the one most urgent in my need to explore was the sea. I soon found like minded painters at the National Maritime Museum Art Club where I became chairman. The club has had a couple of identity changes since then but still exists as the Thames Maritime Artists and I am still chairman.
The limpid, accurately observed and interpreted tones and colours used by Ransonnel Villez immediately struck a chord with my own struggle to capture how we see water and objects in water. Seascape and coastal painting is quite a niche area in painting, not fashionable, and hasn’t been since the Royal Navy stopped ruling the waves, but I have never been troubled by fashion. For me the test of how well I am performing is to be judged by peers and to that end over a number of years I have submitted paintings to the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. For four years I failed to get anything into the show, I was disappointed but not discouraged and eventually in 2019 I got a piece into the show. In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic I got two pieces in – and won the Classic Boat Prize. It certainly does not beat taking your life in your hands going under the sea in a primitive diving bell but sometimes dogged persistence does pay off. I have attached a couple of RSMA exhibition to add to the original set.”
“For the Kick-About I’d like to submit my Symbols piece (#5). Of all the digital work I’ve produced over the last year, it stands out to me as being truly different and emotionally driven. Something in Alice Neel’s original painting really clicked with me.”
“I would like to choose ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ as my favourite piece. It was my very first appearance on the Kick-about and possibly one of my best works. It involved using the mixed media of silk material and painting, and I felt it was a good showcase for my manipulative skills with fabric. I definitely got a buzz from seeing my picture on the internet and I loved using the bright, cheerful colours. It made me feel excited, hopeful and creative even though it was the start of lockdown.”
“While I haven’t been able to contribute as often as I would like in recent months, The Kick-About is a welcome stretch away from my day-to-day. Working in design, I’ve felt it more and more challenging to work without a brief or steer, to make for the pleasure of making, without feeling the need to justify time spent playing as part of a longer project or showreel piece. The Kick-About has provided that stimulus, giving a direction but not a destination, and a space to remember that away from the rounds of amends, renders and timesheets, making is simply, fun. For this reason, making a witches bottle due to a misreading of a painting by Alice Neel was the most enjoyable project for me, reading and researching down whatever avenue seemed interesting, formulating an idea without thinking of demographics or target audience, and then making something however crudely with real physical materials, not worrying about brand guidelines or alignment or safe margins. Looking at the high quality of the other submissions makes it lucky I’m dressing up my motivation in the same outfit as naive or folk art. However, at a time which created a step back from our daily lives and the time to think about why we do the things we do, for me The Kick-About is the reminder I needed to not pack everything in and try to manage a hedge fund. Joy! It’s all about joy!“
“I’m choosing the Invisible Cities (Ersilla) prompt as my favorite. First, because it was something I wanted to do as soon as I read the book a few years ago, but had never gotten around to. And also because it expanded my work from my usual repertoire, which is basically 2-dimensional.
I would say that almost all the prompts have pushed me further than I would normally go outside my comfort zone which is a very good thing. And everyone else’s work is so inspiring, it keeps my mind full of different ideas and inspiration.”
“I’ve loved being part of the Kick-About over the last year. It’s got me doing things I’ve never done before, such as writing and recording my own voice, and it’s going me doing things that I’d never have done without it, so a big thank you, Phil, for putting this together every fortnight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing how people have responded to the prompts and I’m always in awe of the variety, the talent and the creativity that appears in each post.
I’ve got a few favourites from the past year, but i’m choosing this image, which I called ‘Forest Flare’ and made in response to the Orphée’prompt way back last June I think. I painted some 2D trees, an arch and a sky onto card, and then lit and photographed th em on my desk. The main reason I was pleased with how it turned out is that, in the photographic image, a small figure appeared, sitting on the floor, framed by the arch and looking like a faun that had wandered out of the paper forest. It wasn’t there when I looked at the table top set up, but some magic happened in the camera and the image turned out more interesting that I’d planned – quite spooky!”
“I’ve chosen ‘Baba’s Important Work’ because the resulting short story speaks to the power of a random prompt to produce something satisfying, unpredictable and inevitable-seeming. That a story set in a static caravan, in some dystopian society, should have issued from an old book on nautical knot-work, makes me feel excited about the creative process in all its strangeness. I find it reassuring too, a bit like going to Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, opening its doors, and finding, thank goodness, there are still ideas in there after all.“
“Albatross Box is the only sculpture I’ve done for the Kick Abouts – and it is the one that has proven the most constant source of inspiration since I made it. It is still hung up in my house, changing with the light and day and it is a source of endless fascination for my 3 year old. Once COVID restrictions ease a bit, I’d love to scout out some more bones and do a few more bone shadow boxes with poetry and make it a series (I confess to already rescuing another wooden box from the curb in anticipation!). “
“Picking a personal favourite is so tricky! My mind immediately jumps to the Alice Neel prompt from Kick-About #3. I really enjoyed the making of that piece in it’s simplicity and assemblage of iconography. I also enjoyed Kick-About #23 in which I could channel grief into some strange cardboard constructions. Both of those prompts were so calming and helpful to produce. But if I’m honest with myself, I think the very first Kick-About was my favourite subject, largely because the Max Ernst prompt is well suited to my comfort zone – bizarre landscapes and painting methods. What a boring choice I know, but I remember that painting evolving so clearly in my head, and it was a joy.”
Our garden is full of threads at the moment; the elaborate, death-defying webs of the orb spiders, with their juicy brown bodies. When Graeme Daly over at Gentle Giant offered up the city of Ersilia from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities as our starter-for-ten for the Kick-About#13, these spider-webs were utmost in mind’s eye as I considered how to respond to our fortnightly creative prompt. Our garden’s industrious arachnids made me think of the inhabitants of Ersilia and the complexity of structures, and their indomitable commitment to always moving on and rebuilding their structures all over again. I decided I would weave my own webs out in the garden, which I did, much to the consternation of all the house sparrows watching me beadily from the safe harbour of the hedge.
My original idea was to embrace colour, but the skies above me were grey and my mood somehow more sombre than that. I imagined instead coming upon the abandoned buildings of Ersilia, an explorer taking pictures of a vanished civilisation using his unwieldy camera on some unwieldy tripod. I easily imagined the sound of the wind in all the remaining wires, and how haunting a sound like that might be. I recalled suddenly my childhood fear of pylons marching across the countryside, eyeing them warily from the back seat of my parent’s car, and ultimately settled on producing this series of rather melancholy images.
Last time it was fairies and other flights of fancy. I think many of us enjoyed the opportunity for a spot of magical-thinking. This new edition of the Kick-About begins with the no less improbable city of Ersilia, one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – a conurbation of string!
“Here is my offering for this week’s prompt. Sure I’ve gone way off point on this one but was serious fun to get stuck into! When I first read the prompt, I straight away thought of those giant spiders’ webs that entomb entire trees, plus slum like city streets in Asia with endless electrical cables overhead, somehow feeding the city despite their chaotic appearance. Painted in Photoshop over the course of a weekend.”
“I found this latest kick-about very interesting and thought provoking and feel it would be a great book to read in lock down. Unfortunately I am not so speedy a reader and have done my own interpretation and this is what popped into my head: a small town dwarfed by huge poles and wires and cables, much like telegraph pylons can do across a landscape. So this would be before the inhabitants have become too fed up and decided to move on. It seems people can put up with so much and then it’s like the last straw somehow. Anyway, I began by a fine liner doodle, added a watercolour background and attached some threads and thin ribbons. The little houses were an afterthought and I tried to make them 3D with some folds. I enjoyed the process a lot and for once it all went to plan!”
“Here is a quick and dirty of my concept for “What if the strings became the reflections on buildings – ephemeral layerings that would gently blow away…”
“I’m beginning to think I might have strayed too far from the prompt, as I changed from a more literal interpretation involving Venice (as all the cities are about this) and its buildings, to the point at which the people leave therefore entering the world of refugees – the “links” being their possessions which, over time and their journey, are discarded until, on arrival at whatever destination, they are left with nothing but memories….these are the ‘strings’ that bind them. Here, each layer is placed on the next, gradually erasing all evidence of what went before.“
Graphite on paper
Graphite on fine Japanese paper on above image
Graphite on fine Japanese paper on above image
Photo on acetate under tracing paper on above image
“The Kick-About prompt immediately made me want to take actual thread and do something three-dimensional to represent the abandoned city of Ersilia. Cardboard boxes were my starting point. Weaving my embroidery floss with a needle between the supports I cut and folded up, it became obvious how the city inhabitants became tangled in a state of impasse, forcing them to move on. I decided to do a landscape background–the text spoke of viewing the deserted city from the mountains–and I spent a lot of time laying out possible landscapes on my floor from the collage references I had. I then dismantled and retaped a box to make a sort of diorama and glued the landscape pieces down.Then I had fun rearranging the threaded bones of the city and photographing it from different viewpoints against the background.I read “Invisible Cities” in 2016 and posted a review on Goodreads. At the end I wrote: “Certainly it inspires visions that could be transferred to paper…and perhaps some of them will come to form for me at a future time.” And so they have.”
“I was fascinated by this idea of relationships made visible, connections physical, and wondered if I could do the same for one family.I took a family group consisting of 2 parents and 5 siblings. 4 of the siblings married (2 of them twice) and between them produced nine grandchildren. 7 grandchildren married, and between the nine produced 14 great grandchildren. I created the basic blood relationships with crochet chains made up from the colours of both parents, not as a physical representation of DNA, but because the parent-child relationship is often the single biggest influence on an individual, though many other relationships will impact as life moves on.I then began to weave single filaments between grandparents, and grandchildren, between siblings, between cousins, between aunt and nieces, uncle and nephews.
This “construct” is by no means complete, and I have not attempted at this stage to integrate the webs of connections brought by those who married into the family. But the little I have done has revealed much to me about the complexity of the web that we are born into, and that we build around us. It has highlighted how some relationships are simple and straightforward, others tangled and convoluted; some are loose and relaxed, others taut, and under strain. Some connections disappear from view only to turn up later,as if they have always been there, others fray or break, or just atrophy. But all of them have some influence on the people we are and the lives we lead.
This #Kickabout 13 has probably made me think harder than any so far – and the Ersilians included trade and authority relationships as well! No wonder they upped sticks and started again somewhere else!”
“I thought of opting out for this fortnight, but then I remembered the unfinished practice run on paper. I chopped it into strips and collected my family into eight piles. Two teens, myself, Scott, and all four grandparents. Although one of them isn’t with us any more, he is already deeply woven into the fabric of our family. Then I took up a discarded piece of work from an earlier kick-about and began weaving the strands of the family together. So this is my family. Though separated by space, and even time, we are woven inextricably. Our colours harmonise and clash depending on the day and on which other threads are adjacent, but we strengthen each other over all. And a tug on one thread will summon help from several other threads.”
“Chopping sections off into small interludes was a fun follow up. Here are some mini family interactions.”
“What a great kick-about this Ersilia is! I am busy with lectures and classes but couldn’t get it out of my mind. Calvino’s narrative is always so evocative of images, and more. He is one of my heroes who has accompanied me since I started reading, and indeed sparked my love for books and stories. Unfortunately I had not much time to realise all the images that came to mind, so this is just a quick sketch – a beginning for some future work.”
“Our garden is full of threads at the moment; the elaborate, death-defying webs of the orb spiders. They made me think of the inhabitants of Ersilia, and their structures. I wanted to weave my own webs out in the garden, so I did , much to the consternation of all the house sparrows watching me beadily from the safe harbour of the hedge. My original idea was to embrace colour, but the skies above me were grey and my mood somehow more sombre than that. I imagined instead coming upon the abandoned buildings of Ersilia, an explorer taking pictures of a vanished civilisation using his unwieldy camera on some unwieldy tripod. I imagined the sound of the wind in all the wires; and how haunting a sound like that might be. I recalled my childhood fear of pylons marching across the countryside, and ultimately settled on these rather melancholy images.”
“I’ve always wanted to make a film around the uncanny. The uncanny was brought to the surface again with a previous kick about, which saw me reflect on the creepiness of my dad’s basement. The ropes and strings of Calvino’s Ersilia really stuck out to me as a place that suffocates, those ropes like fungus and disease, growing and grasping to bring back again what belongs to the earth.”
“Just a concept painting this week, but I really loved the prompt all the same. I may revisit this city sometime to explore further!
What with Ersilia being based in the plains, all I could see were golden fields bathed in golden light as the sun went down. I imagine Ersilia’s people would opt for simple structures if they knew they’d be upping sticks at some point to start again. I wonder what else they leave behind in the ruins?”
“I was intrigued by the subject and Francesca Maxwell said it reminded her of some of my work. I did not have much time to create new work as it was the weekend before the deadline. Here are the images that I felt contained some of the feeling of these deserted cities….from deserted nests and webs and the cardboard constructions I have made called ‘Fragment’. The last painting is more recent and seems to me like the unravelling of a structure seen through a web of threads.”
As the weather worsens and the daylight diminishes, I felt we needed to kick our heels up and have a bit of a boogie – so as inspiration for our next run-about together, I’m offering up Norman Maclaren’s 1941 animation, Boogie-Doodle! Have fun!
“This painting really intrigued me, so I took time to read about the story behind it and the symbolism within it. Alice Neel painted Symbols in response to her husband leaving her, taking their daughter with him. When I look at the doll and glove on the table, I see things that were left behind by the daughter when she left, little items that were once insignificant, now a symbol of what has been lost. There are discussions on how the inclusion of the cross and apples represent Eve, perhaps suggesting Neel sees herself as the the destroyer of her own Garden of Eden – her family. In my piece, I wanted to take the symbols that stood out the most to me, and using Neel’s style, create a new piece. The doll to me is a symbol of childhood, the cross a symbol of sacrifice, the apple and leaves representing Eden, now lost.”
“I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.”
“When I saw the prompt for the next round of the Kick About I was intrigued. I didn’t know this painting or this artist, so I started Googling and found out more. I looked at the painting again; there was an unsettling mixture of childhood and adult references going on. The painting started to trigger thoughts and memories of my own childhood…”
“I initially mistook the doll in the painting for a voodoo doll, which sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit warren. I surfaced on an article about cunning folk; practitioners of folk magic and divination in England from medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They learnt their craft through spell books called Grimoires, which taught how to create magical objects such as talisman and amulets, other magical spells, and how to summon angels and demons.
Cunning folk however were usually employed in order to solve specific problems, such as missing property, or malevolent witchcraft.
With an East Anglian tradition of cunning folk in my area, I decided that gave me licence to have a go at some millennial magic.
Two of the practices which proved popular against witches were voodoo dolls, and witches’ bottles. I felt a bit funny about voodoo, so I opted with the more friendly sounding witches bottle.
If a witch had placed a curse on your home, your local cunning folk would help you create a witch’s bottle to capture the evil in your home. The folk would produce a bellarmine jug, which the victim was required to either urinate in, or place rosemary, red wine and pins. This would then be buried in the furthest corner of the house, or under the hearth. The purpose behind the objects was that after burial, the bottle would capture and contain the evil, the pins would impale it, the wine would drown it, and the rosemary would send it away. I’m not sure why they needed the urine sample.
Putting a modern spin on ancient problems, I moved house recently and have been having problems with the builder. Rather than read through some tedious warranty documents, I thought it would be easier to use the witch’s bottle to sort out permeated outer walls and safety glass guarantees, and also perhaps throw in a tiny bit of a curse.
I made a crude jug from a pack of air drying terracotta, which it turns out is very difficult to shape, and carved the building faults I want to resolve into the sides, then slapped some black paint on it, to draw the badness in. I then added the red wine, some rosemary and some wood screws (no pins available), opting out on the urine. I live in a flat which doesn’t have a hearth, so I settled for burying the bottle in a pot in the corner of my balcony.
As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been any change in the outer membrane of the house, and I can’t say if the builder has suffered any sudden misfortune, but it’s early days and I remain hopeful.”
“A short film inspired by the various portraits Alice Neel painted of babies and young children that reveal an unsentimental image of motherhood. Quite Normal was likewise inspired by the experiences of my own mother, whose teeth my brother and I stole as babies. Sorry about that, mum!
“Replacing the objects in Alice Neel’s “Doll and Apples” 1932; I’m referencing two contemporary issues: COVID 19 and human damage to the natural world (under subheading ‘Victims of Circumstance’)….scattered like (tea) leaves on the page…and thus looking into an uncertain future.” “Plastic Soldier with Woodcock Wings”. Charcoal and Graphite on Fabriano.
“Strangely, I’ve actually been thinking about Alice Neel a lot lately. I’ve been meaning to watch the doc on her life and work for about a month, and so when this kick-about prompt showed up, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t want to say too much about my piece apart from I hope it expresses something of Neel’s own work. In these recent lockdown months, I’ve been surrounded by people battling deep crisis. This painting is about a singular evening during the lockdown when some of those crises boiled over.”
“I wanted to approach Alice Neel’s painting in a different way than I had done previously. The inspiration for this 3-D collage came when I was cleaning out some papers and came upon the paper insert for the Evanescence cd “Fallen”. The cover photo of Amy Lee seemed to echo the face of the doll Neel had painted.This was music my younger daughter played over and over in her adolescence, and it was fun to go to YouTube and pull up the songs. I still like them. Maybe I even like them more now. Amy’s voice is a force, and she can be way over the top. But the gothic flavor of the music seemed also apt to the painting.
I think Neel is addressing her struggle as a woman, a mother, an artist, a person constrained by family and cultural circumstances. She lost her oldest child to her husband’s family who considered her an unsuitable mother. The life she chose was not easy, but she never gave up her need and her right to make her art. Must a woman be only a virgin mother or a childless whore? And why should gender determine who we are or what we can be at all?“
upon my end I shall begin– I’m going under
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems without a thought without a voice without a soul
the truth drives me into madness, my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
no one’s there– never was and never will be
save me from the nothing I’ve become, return to me salvation
maybe I’ll wake up for once, fallen angels at my feet
let me stay, bow down and stare in wonder
I know who you are– the goddess of imaginary light
“Whereas the artist Alice Neel had a rather sad life with the loss of her two daughters, I have decided to reflect on the symbols of my very happy creative life, and also that of my great aunt. She too was called Alice and was the 5th of 7 children, born 9 years before Alice Neel in 1891. Her father died when she was about four and somehow the family survived in a male-dominated society through two world wars.
What do myself and great aunt Alice have in common? Well, we both love to make things. She was a milliner and I have inherited her milliner’s block – a strong solid oak symbol of stubborn perseverance if ever there was one! I decided to try and make a hat on it. I attached lots of my crochet pieces I’ve made over the years. These are in the style of Irish crochet, where lots of motifs are joined together. Irish crochet began in the famine years of the 1840s and became a symbol of life and hope for the Irish people, especially women, to help make ends meet. Hats off to you Aunt Alice!”
TJ and Jo Norman
“Through collaboration, we fuse sculpture with animation, exploring theatrical aspects of using characters and stories, in conjunction with symbolic real-world materials. This quick turnaround piece plays with Neel’s imagery and themes; apples, dolls, loss and rebirth.”
“When I first looked at Alice Neel’s “Symbols”, it struck me how crushed, how hopeless the figure seems. Yet her make-up is intact and immaculate. It got me thinking about why women wear make-up and what impels us to literally put a “good face” on things, even when things are anything but good. While I was musing, I was experimenting with some freestyle crochet and the following is the outcome of both musings and experiment.”
“As I was working on the face, I was struck by how the reverse told it’s own story. In particular the finished eyes are those of a woman on the edge. On the reverse, they look scratched out…“
“Looking at the source image I felt quite disturbed, which fitted very nicely with my current interest in Absurdity and a recent reading of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I proceeded to layer both domestic and made elements from around my home in order to create a sort of cross section of where I am at. All topped off with, and I think you will all agree, a very lovely frame from Wilko.”
Many thanks to kick-abouter, Francesca Maxwell for our brand-new prompt, which takes its title from the book by Rebecca Solnit. See below for our new jumping-off point and submission date. Have fun and see you all again on the other side and get in touch if you’ve enjoyed the showcase and fancy a run-around too. Whatever it is you’re doing creatively, there’s room for you here.