The Kick-About #69 ‘The Christmas Tree’

Our last Kick-About celebrated an art form and creative practice form more readily associated with home and hearth, and while not everyone may identify as being as creative as quilt-maker, Harriet Powers, it’s also true that Christmas is a time when many people assume the role of installation artist and transform their living spaces into something more extraordinary. Consider the Christmas tree, a simple enough idea of evergreen hope and light-in-the-darkness, but complex too in terms of issues of matters of tradition, culture and taste. With the season of goodwill fast approaching, enjoy this latest selection of new works made in a short time, and with the Christmas tree – in all its creative incarnations – as this week’s inspiration.

Tom Beg

“I have more lasting memories of my mum’s attempts at putting together artisanal and minimalistic Christmas trees (a few twigs with some baubles hanging on) than I do of a proud-looking pine or spruce in the corner of the living room. Thinking back those twigs were actually impressively avant-garde and experimental in the all the ways I wish I could be, so here’s my ode to one of mum’s many avant-garde trees.” / /

Kerfe Roig

“I wanted to make a cosmic tree–and I made three that were supposed to stand up, but they were very hard to photograph that way. So for most of the photos I took them apart and laid them flat.  I used various grounds you may recognise from past projects. I was also thinking of the EE Cummings poem Little Tree and did my own cosmic version.”

big universe

big universe
vast and filled with wonder
endless and infinite
everything all at once

how is it we are here?–
looking up, far, into infinity–
we stand inside the glitter of dust
seeking to capture the stars

a seed was planted–
a long sleep surrounded by a dark womb–
an unformed dream
awakened into manifestation

we hold our children close
and then release them–
what will their spirits carry
when they open to the light?

will there ever be an ending?
a time when particles cease to wave?–
we can only hold hands with the spiral
and continue dancing /

Charly Skilling

“When I was growing up, everything about Christmas decorations was either handmade or used year after year after year.  The Christmas tree (all 2 ft 6 of it) spent 50 weeks of the year resting quietly in the soil of our back garden. Then, a week before Christmas, Dad would go out, dg it up, re-plant it in a tall wooden planter kept specially for that purpose. The tree then took pride of place in the bay window in the front room so it could be seen from the street.

Dad and the older boys would wrangle the tree lights into working order, whilst we younger children made yards and yards and yards of paper chains, plus a small mountain of paper lanterns.  The paper chains would be strung around the middle room (the family room, less likely to be viewed by discerning visitors, I realised when I was older!), and the best of the paper lanterns would hang on the tree amongst the home-made angels, card and glitter stars, and the twelve precious glass baubles that only the most responsible and well-behaved of us were allowed to handle. (No, I don’t think I ever made the grade!). Crepe paper streamers curled amongst the branches and a sprinkling of ‘Angel Hair’ and our tree was complete!

I really miss making those paper chains and paper lanterns, while all around the buzz and hustle of Christmas preparations rose to a steady crescendo… to the moment the lights lit up the finished tree and the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ of a wondrous content settled the room into quiet… Shortly followed by a collective groan as the tree lights flickered once more – and went out!”

Vanessa Clegg

“As I missed the Harriet Powers prompt I wanted to do a small overlap with this one, so have done more stitching. This is really a fantasy of my ideal ‘get away’ Christmas… in a forest somewhere North, sitting out in the snow in the soft, muffled silence that pre-empts the opening of the curtains and seeing all that’s familiar negated in white. The sense of being at one with the elements, smelling the conifers and burning wood, the chilled skin and numbing fingers, a deer in the distance… but eventually returning to the warmth of the cabin, a small silver tree, wine and a sleeping cat. Happy Christmas fellow kick abouts – may it be one of peace and warmth.”

Phil Cooper

“When I was a kid I remember there were particular things I used to dread about Christmas; endless meals with extended family, carol singing, being stuck in the house being made to play with cousins I didn’t get on with. But there were marvellous things too; brightly coloured decorations, fairy lights, beautiful cards and wrapping paper, the foil wrappers of sweets and toffees, and a fabulous, six foot  tinsel tree that came out every year. At any other time, such a preposterous, garish and tacky-looking thing wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the carefully controlled space of the living room, but, for some reason, Christmas meant you could cover everything in technicolour glitter – I loved it!

For my response this week I took a few wooden tree ornaments that sit on the windowsill and photographed them with coloured lighting, editing the photos to try and evoke a bit of that lost childhood Christmas wonder, seen through the eyes of my jaded 57-year-old adult self.” / /

Phil Gomm

“One of the places in the house you might expect to encounter the simple delights of a Christmas tree is positioned just so beside a warming fire… unfortunately, my house of late has been in a state of disarray, plastic dust sheets covering the furniture, the stove disconnected, and everywhere looking a touch forlorn and far from festive.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice the way all those plastic drapes brought a Narnian frost to this empty space in the middle of the house and was suitably inspired one exceptionally drab afternoon to create a winter wonderland, complete with frosted cones of pine trees (or rather plastic sheets suspended from the ceiling using black sewing thread and some drawing pins).

With the addition of some tiny coloured lights sat atop the trees like stars (and the magical powers of long exposure photography), I was able to produce a few festive scenes, however unpromising the starting point…

“… and making full use of this strange, empty room of ours, I set about recreating another semblance of the Christmas tree for our room-without-one. A few of those same little lights tied to a long drop of black thread later, and I set about manifesting this Fritz Lang-meets-James Whale-style tree, and enjoyed all the old-school sci-fi spook of it. In some of them, there’s even the ghost of some mid-20th century Americana in-the-mix, in large part due to those masking-tape atom-age snowflakes I stuck to the wall on a whim…”

“… and finally, like the little match girl herself, I popped outside into the bitter cold and dark, and snapped a few images of our ‘Christmas tree’ as it might appear to curious kids and dog-walkers, as the green glow of it flashed in the long night.

To all the Kick-Abouters, wishing you a wonderful, restful and creative Christmas. I rather cherish your company and the balm of your imaginations and when my husband spies me on a chair, whirling coloured lights about the room, and says ‘What now?’ I reply, gladly, ‘The Kick-About made me do it!'”

Marion Raper

“As usual these last few weeks before Christmas become more and more frantic. We seem to spiral into a whirlwind of parties, present buying and food planning. However, there is still the calmness of the Christmas tree.  A symbol of new life and dating back to pagan times to brighten the darkness of the winter. So Merry Christmas to all who contribute to the Kick About.  May your Christmas Tree shine brightly and light the way to a happy and creative New Year.”

Gary Thorne

Last year’s KA ‘The night before Christmas…’ rang loud in the ear so, it seemed appropriate incorporating this into the pendulum bauble. Perhaps a wrecking ball to some? Perhaps chaos which settles through gravity? Perhaps a fragile sphere risking self-destruction? Or more simply an upbeat swing containing seasonal cheer? Happy holidays KA-ers.”

James Randall

After the quilt KA I was still on a photograph-pattern high so I thought I’d have a go at animating them. When I jumped into the software I found the kaleidoscope setting, which I applied to some of my Brisbane photos. All happened quite quickly and then it came to making a tree out of the patterns – quite quick also. Then in adding a Christmas message and creating a soundtrack it all got a bit quagmire-ish but I kind of finished it and discovered another effect along the way. Hope your Christmases and New Years are full of good cheer. Looking forward to seeing your big beautiful ideas in’23 and thanks for being so inspiring in ’22.

And as we contemplate the opaque horizons of a brand new year, why not let the mystic visions of abstract art pioneer, Hilma Af Klint, light the way towards inner contentment and existential equilbrium! Until then, wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas. Be seeing you again in 2023.

Throwback Friday #135 Albert Street, December 3rd

Not throwing back too far this week, only as far as last weekend, which saw ‘the great switch-on’ of the Albert Street Christmas lights. This year, we inherited a much longer stretch of icicles, hence the festive wrap around of our little end-of-terrace house. There were homemade mince-pies, mulled wine and, this being Whitstable, a bitterly cold wind blowing in off the sea.

Throwback Friday #134 Grasses at The River Slea

I can’t date this photograph exactly, though it was taken at some point in the early 2000s, but I can tell you where I was when I took it: somewhere along the banks of the River Slea in Lincolnshire on a winter’s morning. Looking like one of those heraldic banners, I was obviously drawn to this surviving crisp of grass and snapped it using my old 35mm camera.

Pyrite #1 (2022)

Whenever I pop over to visit my parents, I’m heartened by the small bowl of toffee eclairs on the table in the hall. On my way back out the door, I always pocket a couple to sustain me on my journey home. The toffees come wrapped in these blue and gold twists of metallicised cellophane, many of which have found their way into the washing machine. Once washed, these wrappers take on a very pleasing patina, exfoliated of much of their original gaudiness and turned instead into these rather more translucent, opalescent swatches. I wondered if I could assemble a few of the wrappers together to produce a very small scale homage to El Anatsui’s extraordinary tapestries-come-sculptures – our prompt for The Kick-About No.67.

While not convinced I managed that exactly, I found myself instead thinking about geological strata and seams of gold, about crystalline caves and fantastical canyons.

The Kick-About #67 ‘El Anatsui’

Our previous Kick-About was an explosive affair, as Turner’s Mount Vesuvius in Eruption re-surfaced the land, sea and sky with glowing skeins of lava and fired our imaginations. No less spectacular are the sculptural installations of artist El Anatsui, whose enormous, glinting mosaics drape gallery walls like bejewelled magma. Enjoy this latest showcase of new works made in a short time inspired by Anatsui’s works.

Phil Hosking

“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.” / /

Gary Thorne

“I had some other intentions as to what could happen making use of this collection of old photos inspired by El Anatsui yet, by the end of mucking-about, this assemblage gave the impression of Rome’s Pantheon inner dome and gazing upward through the central opening to the sky. I wasn’t even thinking about it yet, I did just return last week from Rome. Might be nice to glue the whole lot to the spare bedroom ceiling.”

Marion Raper

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!

Kerfe Roig

“I’ve reverted to a grid, echoing El Anatsui’s use of recycled materials.  I wanted to sew the squares together, so I needed something fairly thin.  I painted newspaper in 3 ways with watercolor–one primarily red, one blue, and one with neon spatters.  I then cut them into 2 x 4 inch pieces and folded them into squares.  I used embroidery floss to sew them together – the back with the threads also makes an interesting piece of art I think.  There are many other different variations I could do with this, both using different papers and different ways of sewing the squares together.  I’ll certainly keep it in mind for one of my monthly grids in the future.” /

Jan Blake

“I came across El Anatsui’s work many years ago at the October gallery in London. I loved their enormity and grandeur from such a humble material and maybe subconsciously some years later I found myself drawn to using cardboard, a material that I could recycle and obtain easily. Curiously, when I went to Mexico to make a sculptural piece for a contemporary dance company, I found that finding and selling-on cardboard for a poor Mexican was a way of making a living! So looking at these wonderful looping hangings I am attracted by the metallic and repeating rhythms interrupted by a fold. There is something Mediaeval about them as well like illuminated manuscripts. With these thoughts in mind I turned to a piece that I had started last year but was uncertain of its development. I have added a second row as it were that twists in an opposite direction like cable knitted jumpers. Ultimately these rows will grow but they are time consuming to complete right now. However I have been wanting to add colour to these structures for a while so here is my trial . Taking the idea of illuminated manuscripts and vaulting on Cathedral ceilings, I have painted them differently on the two sides. The result in some ways is more like an old fairground and the colour only appears as it twists round.”

Phil Gomm

“Whenever I pop over to visit my parents, I’m heartened by the small bowl of toffee eclairs on the table in the hall. On my way back out the door, I always pocket a couple to sustain me on my journey home. The toffees come wrapped in these blue and gold twists of metallicised cellophane, many of which have found their way into the washing machine. Once washed, these wrappers take on a very pleasing patina, exfoliated of much of their original gaudiness and turned instead into these rather more translucent, opalescent swatches. I wondered if I could assemble a few of the wrappers together to produce a very small scale homage to Anatsui’s extraordinary tapestries-come-sculptures. While not convinced I managed that exactly, I found myself instead thinking about geological strata and seams of gold, about crystalline caves and fantastical canyons. I’ve also been thinking… I really needed to eat more of those toffee eclairs!”

Vanessa Clegg

“This was perfect timing for me as I did a 2 day course in collograph (no beginner) over the last fortnight and the result seems to fit the prompt. What I was aiming for was a block of specimen samples, the little glass slides that fit into a microscope. Insects and organic-like textures were my subject matter, with a lot of experimenting and, of course, mistakes but for me that’s what makes it an interesting process as the semi-lack of control can lead to surprising and unlooked for effects… More exploration in the future!”

Francesca Maxwell

“I had many ideas inspired by the wonderful work of El Anatsui. I love the texture and the concept. It must be amazing to see them in person, unfortunately I never have. I watched a documentary about his work and how labour intensive it is and I also love how much creativity he allows his helpers and the curators exhibiting his work.  I am a scavenger myself, and over the many years working in theatre and stop motion animation, I collected all sort of rejected bits and pieces. I particularly love metal and I am fascinated by metal mesh, it looks like shimmering fabric. So I put together a mix of found and bought steel, copper and brass mesh photographed and assemble as a mosaic. I don’t have enough to do a large drape like El Anatsui.”

Graeme Daly

“What you are looking at here is the tinfoil leftover from a steak pie, coloured with multicolored markers, photographed, warped and collaged together in photoshop to mimic El Anatsui’s illuminating repurposed sculptures. For scale and grandiosity, I then popped them into an artplacer app.” / @graemedalyart / / / /

James Randall

Of course the message is our environment’s degradation. I have been trying to put together a few key words that encapsulate my concerns but it’s complicated. Let me start by admitting my own guilt: plastic and petrol are still a part of my life. I should have added apathy to my list. Nobody seems to discuss over-population or education focusing on engineering and sciences that enable petrochemical industries (at the expense of arts and humanities, which question our actions…) let alone company (not government only) reparations for years of ignorant profiteering at the expense of the world community – so my few words became several ‘dot’ points. One of the materials that El Anatsui uses is flattened bottle caps – I started my piece by drawing one on computer, then repeated it in on overlapped pattern that reminded me of Islamic art, so I fiddled with the graphic of my list to pursue Islamic text and that set my piece’s style. I think of this work as an environmental incantation.

Charly Skilling

“El Anatsui takes the discarded detritus of modern life – bottle caps, wiring, scraps of aluminium – and transforms them into something that moves and breathes and drapes like the sheerest fabric. I don’t have access to much of that type of material, but one thing I have in abundance is yarn swatches.  I  am always making small swatches to try out a new yarn, a new stitch, a colour combination or just to get the tension right for a new project. Sometimes these swatches get incorporated into a piece of work, but mostly they just sit in a bag in one of my work boxes. I also have some knitting needles that I haven’t used in years, dozens of excess crochet hooks and hundreds of blocking pins. So, a couple of hours of folding, twirling, sticking and pinning later,  a pile of nothing very much has become something colourful and cheerful, which might, conceivably, have occurred naturally in a garden.”

… and courtesy of Charly Skilling, we have our next prompt: the narrative quilts of American folk artist, Harriet Powers. Have fun!

Throwback Friday #133 ‘Rhus typhina’

These photographs of the glorious foliage of a Staghorn sumac tree were taken in the garden belonging to my late grandmother at some point in the mid-2000s – can’t remember when exactly, though I remember actually taking the pictures themselves; walking down the flight of enclosed concrete steps that led down from Grandma’s first floor flat and out into the garden at the back, where this tree opened out from a small central bed like a festive umbrella.