Our last Kick-About together introduced me to an artist I didn’t know, Peter Mungkuri, whose monochromatic and illustrative paintings simplified plant forms in feathery marks and concentric circles. This week it’s Matisse, an artist with whom we’re likely more familiar, but whose cut-outs remind us of the joy of colour, form and working directly. But just before you settle down to enjoy this week’s showcase of new works made in a short time, a few words of congratulation to regular Kick-Abouter, Brisbane-based artist, James Randall, whose painting,Card Players, is a finalist in the 2021 Brisbane Portrait Prize. Boom! Congratulations, James.
“Matisse said collage was like ‘drawing with scissors’. Having been using collage to make images for quite a few years now, I know what he means. There’s something very direct and liberating about snipping away and playing with cut up paper. I find I can create such lively and dynamic juxtapositions that I’d never be able to make any other way. I think Matisse made his paper cut-outs when he was getting old and increasingly ill. The exuberance and joy in these simple responses to nature, made by a man who was nearing the end of his life, really touch me, and they act as a powerful tonic in these increasingly fractured and unsettling times.
I made this collage using paper I’d painted myself, along with cut up fragments from old magazines I’d bought in a second-hand bookshop. It was made after a magical encounter I’d had with a hare in the forest on the outskirts of Berlin last week. It was dusk, and I was having a break during a cycle ride through the woods. As I was sat on the edge of a sandy glade in the twilight, I noticed the hare, sat upright, about ten feet away from me. We looked at each other for a minute before he loped off into the trees. I’ve never seen a hare so close, they are such beautiful creatures, so when I arrived home that evening, I got out the scissors and paper and set about trying to capture the moment.”
“The idea here was to tap into the seaweed cyanotypes of Anna Atkins by cutting into one of my own, in this case of an iceberg, but sea-related nonetheless. Sadly, time ran out so it didn’t progress from there, but maybe I’ll develop the idea at some point, as it has potential…”
“I’m a big fan of drawing with scissors, as Matisse described it. But I didn’t pick up the scissors. For one thing, the bees kept swarming! Three more times. I mean, crikey! As soon I saw the prompt for the Kick-About, I thought of seaweed, (not bees) and in particular I thought of the seaweed I painted for When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna; the book I have just finished illustrating. There are several pages featuring the sea in this book, and in three of them, I took the opportunity to create underwater scenes full of colourful seaweed. So when I was working on ideas for the endpapers, one of them featured crabs and seaweed. I never finished this concept, because it didn’t seem as apt as some of the other ideas, but after spending a whole day painting tiny crabs, and working them into patterns, I did fall in love with this little guy hiding behind his seaweed…”
“Today, I revisited the unfinished endpapers and played around a little bit more.”
“A fun prompt with so much on-line inspiration available – thanks Evelyn and Chris! Rather than painting paper and cutting it out, I cut, curled and tore a couple of A4 sheets of blank paper then photographed them up close. Then I digitised them and Illustrator and Photoshop combined and coloured them. They evolved quite a bit over the two weeks.”
“Henri Matisse’s cut-outs got me thinking about the shapes that are left behind, not just the pieces cut out, but the effect of the space where the cut-out had been. I used first some old yarn, and them some strips torn from a magazine to glue, in a wrap, around balloons. After several coats of glue had dried and hardened, I burst the balloon and eased the remnants away from the inside of the shapes. Here are the resulting structures.”
“I also tried the same technique with some beautiful autumn leaves, but this was not very successful, partly becasue the leaves needed to be dried for longer, and partly because I cannot tie a knot in a balloon to save my life. The balloon just gently deflated long before the leaves were hard enough to support their own weight. But I could see the potential for some beautiful shapes, so I’ll just have to keep trying.“
I’ve used Matisse and his cut outs so many times as a reference; I found a cut out I photographed at an exhibition at the Boston Museum of Art, one I had never seen before then, and realized the top image reminded me of a devil mask, so that’s what I decided to do, in the spirit of Halloween. I used Mexican masks as an additional reference.
And a poem also in the spirit of Matisse:
The mask is mute—it does not tell what lies beneath– layers falling backward, a way from the present– unglued, it rearranges, becomes paper becomes scissors cutting through the air– thought stilled before form
“Matisse turned to scissors and coloured paper for expediency to produce his celebrate cut-outs, which surely derive their energy from that directness. In thinking about my approach to this prompt, I wanted to identify an equivalency for Matisse’s scissors – a ubiquitous tool – and the speediness of producing shapes, for then combining in different ways. So it was I began my image-making with Powerpoint – oh yes, the infamous ‘presentation-maker’, notorious as software for producing will-sapping slides to be shown in under-ventilated rooms. One of the application’s off-the-peg tools is ‘Insert Shapes’ – which allows you to draw simple shapes with a quick drag of your mouse, and then colour and outline them as you see fit. I used Power Point to produce collections of basic shapes – circles, rectangles and squares – and then brought those ‘cut-outs’ into Photoshop, where I set about layering them one on top of the other with as much immediacy as I could muster.”
“This felt very much like a meditative practice, in which I lost myself in the process of creating such squidgy shapes with an abundance of colour. I wanted to reflect Matisse’s practice and keep things fluid, as he did in his old age. I felt very much like a kid again, by keeping things as practical as possible and avoided any overly cerebral thoughts, so a lot of these designs took on a life of their own, and I thoroughly enjoyed letting them be.”
“Working with a palette knife is refreshing, as it encourages blocking-out of form avoiding details early on in the process. Obviously quite abstracted, this is based upon a partial still-life within the studio, yet the colours were not local to the objects. Once dry I couldn’t resist a bit more control using a brush. Matisse and colour are joyous things to live with.” Oil on canvas board 25 x 25cm.
“I enjoy Matisse’s cut-outs because it’s the type of work that just makes you want to get some colour paper and scissors and get all arty and creative without any inhibitions. Unfortunately, when you use a computer it’s easy to forget all of that, and often I get lost somewhere in the fog of the minutiae of digital art and CG. To be honest, for a while I approached this in completely the wrong way, but in the end I just went with what I can only describe as the CG equivalent of some pieces of colour paper and scissors.“
“I love cut-outs. Mine rarely stay in 2 dimensions. I resisted hanging them and lay them on the background. I still want to hang them and see them moving. Time caught up with my wishing to make a little film of them spinning in space. Later maybe…”
“This was great fun! The wonderful fluid shapes of Matisse are just timeless. They fit in with today’s world as easily as when he created them way back in the 40s. I thought I would use October’s vegetable harvest for my design and chopped a red pepper and cabbage in half and made a sketch of them. Then I looked for some interesting’ Matisse like’ shapes. That actually was the easy bit! The more difficult task for me was arranging my cut out shapes and finding a colour scheme. After many alterations I was happy with my layout of some trees .I then decided to do a second picture and hey presto my shapes had turned into a vase of flowers with the help of a recycled painting that I always knew would come in handy.“
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.”
Arguably, the wunderkammers gathered together by the likes of Ole Worm – our last prompt – represent pure expressions of human curiosity, untamed by such things as order, category, reason, or taxonomy, where the real and the imaginary are given equal footing. Now, with Isadora Duncan’s clarion call for free expression and non-conformity ringing in our hearts and minds, the kick-abouters this week are running wild and free…
“With this week’s prompt being “You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you” I instantly thought about being amongst the countryside of Ireland, and surrounded by flora and fauna. When I was younger, I was wild at heart; I climbed the highest trees, I made hideouts, I swam in rivers. The ground on top of hills surrounded by fairy trees was ground down by my cousins and myself, with our bikes fucked into the nearest ditch. We could be heard screaming with joy in this landscape playground that was all around us. We would cycle into town, put our money together and buy sweets and milkshakes, then cycle back – milkshake in hand and eat our feasts, supported by tree trunks and makeshift wooden slats. I feel like I grew up on the precipice of this wild and free way of life, before it started to die out with the younger generation concentrating more on the protective shield of screens. I still feel like I have that sense of adventure within me, and when it is my birthday this year I am buying myself a bike to find some places that remind me of that time, I might not make hideouts like I used too, but I will be taking photos of places that bring me back to that untamed nature.
Pictured here are photos from the forest taken this past Christmas, where we ran amok often. I wanted the photos to feel nostalgic, with a rustic warmness to them and an influx of colour, but also show that we adventured to places like this in all seasons and all weather, where we were free and wild with not a care in the world. We never let anyone tame us and that’s how it should be.”
“Cats in Australia are a problem. They’re often mistreated, often dumped, and the feral population is gigantic, doing enormous damage to our wildlife. Click here to find out more. My lovely foster cat arrived painfully thin, with 4 bouncing babies. All of them have now been successfully adopted. Hooray! Go well little ones…”
“Technically these guys once were wild, having been picked up as strays. But at the same time, they were affectionate and tame. So they are not really my response to this prompt. My response was, I think, a little influenced by a far superior cat painting, by William Kentridge that is on the wall of my studio. But really it was just a fun play about with ink. Fairly large scale on cartridge. I swished up a few garden plants for him to prowl in. Then combined the two in Photoshop. I altered his head and paws a bit to bring him into a more domestic cat proportion, and out of the original, more expressionist type. He represents the suburban animal who is both wild and tame at the same time. Every time he goes outside, he becomes his own heritage, a wild animal. Our gardens are his hunting ground. It is a fascinating thing, albeit devastating to our wildlife.”
“This was such a gift of a prompt! How all our lives have been tamed by this pandemic over the last year and how we yearn to escape it, the masks, the travel bans, the social distancing, the pub closures, etc. How do you sustain your ‘wildness’ when you have to stay indoors so much? I’ve spoken to lots of friends over the last year who used to spend their spare time climbing mountains, or skiing, or travelling to far flung places. Now they do jigsaw puzzles, or make sourdough. On paper it’s all rather tragic, but as long as we’re holding on to our wild selves inside it doesn’t matter I suppose. If we keep the wild candle burning somewhere in a little sacred space in our souls it can burn brightly once again when the restrictions are eased. And how we’ll appreciate it then!
I made a sort of ‘green man’ mask last year before the lock-down kicked in. It hangs on the wall of our living room and I think of it as a kind of talisman, reminding me of better days to come when I can travel more freely and get out into the wild places more. I hope it’s soon though!”
“I had a totally different idea of what I wanted to do with this, involving collage, but the photos of Duncan dancing made me want to try to first capture the movement in drawings. I ended up pulling out pastels I hadn’t used in probably 40 years that happened to be in my watercolor bin. There’s a reason Degas used pastels for his dancers–but having no fixative, there’s also a reason I haven’t used them in awhile. Right now they are hanging on the wall where they won’t smear until I get something to spray them with. I still have the collage idea filed away for some future project…”
“Here is Isadora in one of her famous dance poses around the year 1900. She must have been an amazing lady, with her love of free and natural movements, and seeking the divine expression of the human spirit. I suppose she was the original ‘wild child’ and was always deemed to be one of those stars to come to an inevitable tragic ending. There have been so many other women since who have passed away, never reaching their full potential – Janice Joplin, Sharon Tate, Grace Kelly, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, Princess Diana, to name but a few. We shall never know what heights they would have reached and whether they would have ever been ‘tamed’, so to speak, but I doubt it. However, I bet Isadora would have loved Rock and Roll!”
“What an extraordinary woman Isadora Duncan was at that time, and pre-dating Diaghalev! That surprised me. For me she fits in with the photographs of fairies, and the kind of dance to me that is very ethereal, rather than wild. Wild, however, for that time of restricted movements due to tight bound bodies in corsets.Wildness for me is in the actions of natural forces on our environment that leave their traces of upheaval and transformation in the landscape and seascapes that surround us. Nature cannot be tamed by man or woman.
The first image is a combination of two strips of photographs I took in France a long time ago: every September on that South West coast of France there is a strange storm that transforms the landscape over night. I did not know about it at the time. The storm was brewing and all day my partner and I had been sniping at one another. The sky changed to an inky mauve and I started running towards the beach about a mile away. The sea was jade green… still as a pond… the sky deep purple… the boats like paper cut-outs… so, so still and then the rumble, flash, and torrential rain. I screamed and screamed, and the beach was filling up with people who also screamed. It was the most remarkable storm I have ever witnessed. The sea was like a wild beast. Tsunamis must be the most terrifying though; this was just a flash in the pan in comparison. The next morning the beach was unrecognisable. All the dunes had changed shape. The pools of water held mysterious images. The fences were broken and disordered once again.
So this photo reminded me of that. I looked at it and saw a corset in place of the fencing, something that kept the wildness of the sea in check, but easily broken.”
‘Once upon a time, there was a tribe called the Rondels. The Rondels believed in discipline and harmony and their dance was ballet and, for them, Ballet was Dance. For many, many years, the Rondels lived and worked and strived to perfect the Ballet, always correcting, and polishing, and correcting some more to ensure the Ballet met the rigorous standards of their forefathers who had laid down the Rules.
Then one day, out of nowhere it seemed, there was an Other amongst them. This Other was not a Rondel, the shape was very odd. This Other did not blend in or harmonise with the tribe, but was a vivid contrast, clashing and startling in her variety. This Other did not do Ballet, but moved in strange and unexpected ways, twisting, flowing, swirling in a Dance all her own.
Many of the Rondels were shocked by this Other. “That’s all wrong” they said. “That’s not Dance. She’s not abiding by the Rules. It’s immoral!”
Other Rondels said “It’s just Showing Off. Take no notice. It will soon get bored and go away.”
But a few said ” It may not be Ballet, but those colours are beautiful. Perhaps we could try something a little different with our colours?”
And a couple of Rondels whispered “That shape is so exciting – could we not incorporate it into the Dance in some way?”
And one little Rondel, braver than the rest, went right up to the Other and said “Please, what are you? What do we call you?”
And the Other replied “I am a Dancer, and my name is Isadora.”
Then the little Rondel summoned up all her courage and said “Please, Isadora, will you teach me to dance like you?”
“But aren’t you learning to be a Ballet Dancer?”
“Why can’t I do both?”
And Isadora thought for a moment and then laughed.
“No reason,” she said. “No reason at all.”
And although Isadora was not with the Rondels for long, they learnt much from her, and even after Isadora had gone, the Rondels adopted and adapted and tried out new things. It didn’t always work and some Rondels could never bring themselves to accept these innovations as being equal to the Ballet. But many did, and years and years later, little glimpses of Isadora can be seen again and again, anywhere where there is Dance.‘
“Young Once: if only the ravages of time could be kept at bay! This is a pick of my my high school mate Mark in his daring red jumpsuit in front of his very yellow Holden Gemini at a very country pub early 80s. I came across the ultra-contrasty original pic while packing stuff away and instantly new Mark would be my wild subject!”
“My father kept budgerigars and tropical fish and, as children, we marvelled at their beauty and difference… but see these creatures in their natural habitat, and their captivity becomes a cramped, needless and extremely sad practice. In Rose Tremain’s book “ Restoration” Merivel is given an “Indian Nightingale” which has “travelled the seas”, and is thus seen as both strange and exotic. Later it is shown to be a common blackbird… He has been duped! But I wonder? Perhaps the strange and exotic is simply a state of mind transforming the everyday into something wondrous… how we “see” the world. We can create our own cages so, to me the “wild” is the imagination, and that’s the road to freedom!” Crayon on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“I properly disappeared into this prompt, another complete world building around it and absorbing me completely. I kept discovering all these pockets of rage and sadness as I wrote this, not least because I’ve been reading a lot about so-called “conversion therapies” and ‘cures for homosexuality’, and not least because a fair ratio of ‘Glorious’ is based on the life and times of an individual I know well, a man who guards his freedoms fiercely, with no f**ks given.”
Thanks to regular blogger, scribe and kick-abouter, Kerfe Roig, we have our new prompt… another great opportunity to let our ‘Hair’ down? In addition, a heads-up re. The Kick-About No.26. The 26th edition means we’ve been running around in each other’s company for 52 weeks – a year of creativity under strange constraints. I’d like to mark the occasion by making the 26th edition a celebration of all that’s gone before, so I’ll be asking kick-abouters to choose their own favourite submission so far, and offer up a few words as to why, and maybe something too about the importance of creating and making. I look forward to hearing from you in due course. Something to think about, but until then, ‘Let the sunshine in.’
Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of devising and creatively directing an EU-funded ‘visualisation of classical music’ project in collaboration with my students, alumni and staff. Our mission was to take on Verdi’s mighty Requiem, and not attempt to animate it, or fall into any turgid, representational mode committing us to grandiose CGI. You can dive nice and deep into the development of the project here, but I’m going to offer up the short version, which goes like this: first, we plugged Arie Van Beek into some motion-detection software while he was conducting Verdi’s Requiem with his orchestra in order to capture his every movement during the performance. Next, the resulting data was translated by a computer into seven curves, one for each of the discrete movements of the Requiem, which gave us spatial representations of the conductor’s gestural energy; along these curves followed his orchestra.
The seven curves originating from Arie Van Beek’s conducting of the Requiem
My students and alumni were then given the curves as digital files, and challenged to use them to produce sculptural forms fashioned in 3D using the animation software in which they were trained. They were asked to listen to each movement of the Requiem and allow their impressions of the music to inform their creative decision-making, and a final selection to be made from their respective entries.
The final seven 3D models produced by the students.
Ultimately, we wanted to physicalise the 3D forms as real-world sculpture, so had to devise a practical means to ready the digital models for fabrication. We divided the 3D forms into planes, or slices, with the idea of laser-cutting the silhouettes out of sheet steel, before reassembling them again to produce the finished piece.
One of the sculptural forms expressed as a series of silhouettes.
A 3D simulation of how the silhouettes combine to produce the sculpture.
Maquettes of the seven sculptures were then produced so we could understand how they would sit on the ground and actually work as physical things. I need to say here what an exciting moment this was, as we first understood what it meant to have taken an epic, canonical work of classical music and converted it into tangible, tactile things.
The seven movements of Verdi’s Requiem as diminutive, laser-cut maquettes.
Finally, laser-cut from steel, welded together and painted, the seven finished sculptures were installed on the lawn of the Royal Opera House’s High House Production Park, Purfleet, to accompany a further performance of the Requiem. The unspoken truth of this highly collaborative and interdisciplinary project was that all of us wished the budget had been very much larger, meaning we could have produced the sculptures at a much bigger scale. Sized as they were, the sculptures were playful, when I think we all wanted them to loom more grandly, as befitting their origin point. Still, the business of moving them around in various transit vans, and carrying them about, proved challenging enough; any bigger, and we would have needed a fleet of articulated lorries!
The pleasure of this project was not knowing how to do something, and not knowing how something was going to turn out, but always confident in the knowledge I was working with a bunch of talented individuals committed to making something wonderful take place.
After the deep intellectual waters of our last Kick-About together, we find ourselves submerged once more, joining Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez in his submersible. It’s a bit of squeeze in there, not least because I’m happy to welcome two new kick-abouters into the mix: Jackie Hagan and Brian Noble. All aboard!
“This image started with a really quick thumbnail sketch that still contains the looseness in its final form, which I like. Thinking about Von Ransonnet-Villez’s contraption, and marvelling at the man’s ingenuity and dedication to explore for sake of art and science, I began to think about the experience of the sea life that was seeing this bizarre contraption in their domain. I switched the view to something where I could set the scene from a fish’s perspective, allowing me to look up into the submersible, and in the process give a bit of drama to what must have been quite a long and claustrophobic experience. Bit of artistic license used on the design of the submersible. I’m sure Eugen wouldn’t have minded.”
“I was struck by the delicately populated reefs depicted in Ransonnet-Villez’s underwater paintings, which led me to wonder what he would have made of the shocking fact that, according to MEPA, 90% of the corals around Sri Lanka are now dead. What would he see if he had been able to submerge in his diving bell today? A sea full of plastic? Or maybe not, micro-plastics being the invisible killers that they are…
Falling into the rabbit-hole of research (yes, I should be working!) led me to discover scientists have set up an EU funded project called GoJelly, (https://gojelly.eu/about/) which is exploring scooping out blooms of jellyfish and using their slime to trap and remove micro-plastics from the oceans. But what would happen if the jellyfish fought back? Prehistoric creatures digesting the most modern of pollutants… And so I present, Scyphozoa plasticus.”
“I didn’t know about Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez artworks and I am glad of the introduction. Most of my work is about the sea in one way or another. I was born by it and miss not been near it, so I paint it instead. Here is a bit of fused glass I did of a jellyfish. Wonderful, translucent and clever things they are.” Fused Glass 30 x 28 cm.
“I didn’t know the artist Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez before I read the kick about prompt, but a couple of clicks later and I was fully immersed in his underwater world and liking it a lot. The images conjure the excitement of exploration, and stepping out of the comfort of the shallows into stranger worlds.
The underwater paintings brought back memories of summer swimming for me. When the weather warms up we spend many afternoons in the lakes in and around Berlin. At the very best spots you can swim through crystal clear turquoise water amongst the water lilies with dragon flies buzzing about your head. It’s really lovely. A while back, I made a couple of studies based on my impressions of those swims and they seemed to fit the bill this week.”
“Here are my thoughts on Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez and his underwater paintings. I love the murky otherworldliness. My only experience of looking under the water was a trip to Malta many years ago. Crystal clear water and no murkiness or pollution at that time. It was magical, and I don’t know why I’ve not taken up snorkling again. It seemed a natural progression from the last Kick-About, that I retrace the possible journey of my Sea-heart pod back to where it may have started in the Gulf of Mexico. There were such a lot of possibilities, from barren wastes left by oil spills, to underwater forests left from the ice-age, and then the most extraordinary plants that live on the coral reefs. This is one of the richest areas for unusual sea life anywhere in the world. So what a trip my pod had! Here are the first two images of the Gulf of Mexico, followed by imaginary images through the windows of a submarine, as a bit of an after thought / diversion / intrigue?” .
‘Getting going out of the swamps into choppy waters over the sunken forests.’
‘A slower rest in the shallows or the coral reef.’
‘A chance glimpse through the submarine port holes of my imagination.’
“My original inspiration for tackling the latest Kick-About prompt was imagining what it must have been like forRansonnet-Villez inside his submersible, looking through the thick greenish glass of his porthole and out onto the ocean floor. I guess I was more interested in thinking about the distortions produced by looking through the glass, and how they’d add a certain otherworldliness to the painter’s underwater subjects. There is a mundane secret at work behind the resulting photographs – a simple set-up reframing a collection of household objects and pushing them towards a sort of bubbly and aquatic abstraction. Producing these photographs proved immensely addictive – play by any other name.”
“I started fly fishing 35 years ago, although it wasn’t until I started sketching and painting fish that I began to observe both the above water landscape and the underwater landscape while spending time on the water fishing. I soon discovered that examining the natural landscape of creeks and rivers caused me to pause and reflect upon the environment I had found myself so immersed in. Studying rocks, trees, water and fish became equally important as fishing itself. I found myself considering how objects appear both above and below the water, and how reflected light is such an important factor in how these objects are presented. I have recently started using an underwater camera to capture some of these images to use as a resource for my sketches. Personally, I find fish to be an intriguing life form – how they hold still, swim, secure food and seek shelter. The natural curves of a fish bring a sense of calm and beauty that I appreciate and strive to recreate in sketches and watercolor paintings.”
“I had a fun time with this and decided to do an underwater collage.To start with I tried a bit of marbelling on Yupo paper and using acrylic inks. It turned out so beautifully, I couldn’t bear to cut it up! It reminds me of the shapes and shadows on the ocean floor. Next I tried making marks with water colours, using things such as bubble wrap and sponges, and scratching with a palette knife. This was also too special to chop up, even though it would be great as fish skin or scales. Lastly, I sketched a few fish and spent a very pleasant afternoon cutting and sticking my scene together. Can you spot the pepperoni pizza fish?”
“Not having come across Eugen Ransonnet-Villez before I was captivated by his underwater drawings and paintings, particularly since the diving bell was a new and quite dangerous piece of tech in the 1860s. He manages to capture the submarine luminescent qualities of light in his colours and textures in very convincing studies. The only quality I share with him is the desire to capture images of the sea, in my case above it, rather than under it. My association and motivation to paint the sea became the jumping off point for the Kick-about 22.
I grew up 60 miles from the sea in Yorkshire, and must have been close to 10 before I saw and splashed in it. My first interests were in the craft that sailed on it rather than the sea itself. I soon realised a drawing or painting of a boat looked less than convincing without being placed in a realistic sea, and from there my interest grew. A fascination developed with the fact the sea could change completely in the blink of an eye, colour, light and shape being constantly in motion. I was overwhelmed by the technical challenge, but as the years went by a number of “How to paint the sea” books arrived on the bookshelf. However, the process looked complicated, so the books remained on the shelf.
One day, whilst killing time between jobs, I pulled down a book that fell open at the beginning of an exercise. Almost without thinking I repeated the exercise – it worked, not a great piece of art, but it looked like the sea! I was hooked and devoured all the other exercises. It would be wrong to give the impression that technique is all you need, but it gives confidence, and if done in conjunction with careful study of the real thing, turns mere technique into art. Once bitten you never stop learning.
My images for the “Kick-About”are from a recent exercise I set with an art club I am a member of, to demonstrate technique and capture the swell of the open sea. It is certainly not the only way to paint the ocean, but I do get fairly consistent results and I have pdfs of the original exercises should anyone be interested.”
“I had high hopes for a bubbled person image but felt time and concept were getting away from me, so I switched direction to bits and pieces washed up on a beach – the original photo I had in the back of my mind from 2010 had always appealed. Thanks again for a bit of kick-about fun.”
“This got me thinking about the state of the sea in 2021 and how poor old Eugen would be turning in his grave at the changes since he sat in his box, scooting along the sand surrounded by as yet, untouched beauty. If he were to repeat this now with the addition of temperature rise (bleached coral), pollution from plastic and chemical dumping, agricultural run off and change in salinity from ice melt, he would be sadly disappointed.
I’ve approached this simply, addressing plastic and coral die off. Tempting, however, to tie Eugen in with The Flintstones, as his submersible reminded me of Barney Rubble using his feet through the car floor to ‘motor’ himself along!”
22” X 22” Charcoal on Fabriano paper. “Empty Shell with Ear Buds.”
20” X 15” “Dead Sea”. Photo collage with bleached coral.
“I’ve been futzing around with this all week, inspired by Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and the earthweal challenge natural forces. The painting above, my first attempt, probably has 20 painted layers. Watercolor looks very different wet, and each time it dried I was dissatisfied with the result. Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez was an Austrian artist who designed a diving bell so he could paint the landscape that existed under the sea. This was in the 1860s – both crazy and fantastic. His paintings have an eerie green magic, which was what I was trying to capture, because what is the sea but the most elemental of magic? Like Ransonnet-Villez, I wished to immerse myself inside of it. Being at the moment concrete-bound, I could only try to conjure it with words and paint.”
tides entombed in unchanging light, reflecting the absent sky, shimmering with intangibles– an ancient web woven with stories–
the stilled sea contemplates its origins– heavy with the cadences of gravity boundaried by the afterlife– tides entombed in unchanging light–
surrounded and asunder, astonishment becomes tinged with enigmatic clarity– holding particles of stars as if enshrined, reflecting the absent sky–
the fulcrum rests inside the echo of what endures, arising from an aqueous womb shimmering with intangibles–
the circle continues, horizonless, quivering in confluence– who can refuse the voices of the sea?– an ancient web woven with stories–
“When I returned to the forest this past winter, I happened to come upon a small trench-like lagoon deep within the caverns of the forest, where the snow above was melting and gently plopping into the lagoon. The lagoon was shallow, meaning I could see the dirt, grasses and flowers filtering about in the water with the slightest movement.The glare of the crispy winter sun, projecting shadows of the spruces and firs, lit certain areas of the undergrowth in vibrant red. The trees and shrubbery reflected upon the water caused a mandala of colours to be refracted and ripple, as snow drops fell from above. Watching this was one of most pleasurable tranquil experiences I have ever had. I sat and watched this private show for a long time, and felt as though time had frozen – along with my hands. I pressed record on my camera, although I didn’t have a tripod, which meant some shakiness. It was an absolute pleasure to edit this film, and with it I have attempted to capture that feeling of complete tranquility.The song by Kris Keogh, entitled “We Were Gone Further Than Forever”, transported me back to that tranquil meditative state again, with sections feeling like time moving, flowing and reversing.”
Of our brand new Kick-About prompt, it could be argued we’ve been producing work suitable for the shelves of the ‘Museum Wormianum’ week-after-week. Nonetheless, I cannot wait to see what curiosities we might produce with the Ole Worm’s collection of oddities as today’s jumping-off point.
Following the simple, unadorned charms of our previous still-life inspired Kick-About, in which we were encouraged to turn our creative attentions to objects rather ordinary and domestic, this week’s edition is a good deal more fanciful. With Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature as our collective stomping ground, we’ve generated between us a veritable coral reef of different ideas, processes and creativity.
“Haeckel’s images have that other worldly alienness of the microscopic, to me, they tread a line between the interspatial and the outer spatial. With this image I started “riffing” in Maya with repeated forms, influenced a little by Hebrew descriptions of the Ophanim. With a bit of “evolution” a tiny bit of “Interstellar” and a smidge of “Event Horizon” I ended up here.”
“As regular Kick-Abouters are probably aware, I’ve been playing around with freeform crochet off-and-on throughout these last few months. First I tried faces, then a whole new world, and then the use of crochet to visualise forms from different environments. I had also started to play about with mathematical forms, and I came across the work of Christine and Margaret Wertheim. (Check it out. It is mind-blowing!. I had to have a go. The Kickabout 19 gave me the perfect opportunity to put some of these ideas together. If Ernst Haeckel reveals art forms in nature, what better example than the myriad forms and colours of a coral reef? I just loved this Kick-About. Great fun!”
“Ernst had me take a few snaps of garden toot – nigella, poppy and rocket (or is it arugula over there?) seed heads and some other scraps in a vase on a rainy day. Low light and not much in focus but I think moody.“
“And one little gauche pic – no husband, it is not a pumpkin!”
“I imagine these images (created by mashing together a bunch of images and outputting them through different software) as explosions, atoms, cells, planets or even galaxies seen in their most embryonic stage, viewed through some impossibly powerful microscope.”
“I’ve admired Haeckel’s work for years but had never really researched the man. A surprise was in store… which made me see it in a very different light. He was a eugenicist/scientific racist believing in both the superiority of German culture/ race and monism (represented as a circle with a central dot). This guided my response. I decided to find beauty in the…so called…imperfect, which, to me, has always been a more interesting area to explore: dusty dead insects picked up in my studio, broken / found objects, scratched and stained surfaces, ageing skin… all this evidence of life long lived… so many layers of history.”
Charcoal on Fabriano. 30” X 22” / Crayon on Fabriano. 19” X 19”
“I’ve been a fan of Haeckel’s work for many years. In the mid-1990s I used to work in Covent Garden, in London, and there was a wonderful shop selling books of source material for artists and designers. There would usually be a volume of Haeckel’s images in the window, with a cover illustration of strange and otherworldly creatures.
Haeckel’s prints are an absolute marvel. They record every, tiny detail of each subject with such laser-sharp intensity, an intensity that gives the images a uniquely mysterious and odd quality. In fact, many of the images are quite nightmarish to my mind. What may be harmless sea creatures often seem to have spikes, tendrils and/or tentacles. There are creatures here that remind me of The Thing, when it gets the dog in the kennels...
At the moment there is a jam-jar of twigs and berries on my desk, gathered on a winter walk in the woods just south west of Berlin, not far from where Haeckel was born, it turns out. So, I’ve photographed them for the kick about this week and played about with the images a bit to try and draw out some strangeness. Nothing as remotely strange as a page of Haeckel drawings of plankton though!“
“As per usual I am torn between going down a textile or a painting route with the wonderful art of Ernst Haeckel. Oh, how I wish we had been given such fabulous ideas and examples for study back in the O level days! But hey, it’s never too late and the Kick-About and lockdown is a great opportunity to make another run at the tape, so to speak.
These last few weeks I have spent many hours trudging through soggy woods and finding lots of examples of lichen and leaves. Around my area, Oak and Beech are prevalent, as they don’t rot away easily. Consequently the woodland paths seem to shimmer and shine in the wet and make wonderful shapes and patterns underfoot, which I have tried to capture in acrylics. My other submission is using various stitches, beads and shells depicting an underwater scene I did a while back.”
“This was a curious Kick-About, as the subject matter was immediately attractive to me, mainly because the sense of patterning and natural forms has always attracted my attention. I saw this tower of watch parts in a workshop window in Bristol last week and it reminded me of the images of Ernst Haeckel.
However, in my own work it flows between 2 and 3 dimensions. The desire for me is not so much the patterns as the incongruity and movement in the growing process, and the cellular transparency of delicate organisms.
I started this piece some while ago and I have been trying to come to grips with it over this year. It is made from cardboard boxes cut into strips and reassembled to create a more transparent filigree effect. I do some, then leave it, and then this prompt made me come back to it. Thank you. It needs reviving!
I anticipate it will grow more towards the original drawing as the ‘Limbs’ will become more numerous. I want the piece to curve so that the viewer can stand within to look out on a different world. It’s going to take a while!“
“I was spoiled for choice with this Kick-About, with rural Ireland having a bountiful abundance of botany with textures, colours and shapes, all the flora and vegetation feeling like an endless pick’n’mix. I always find myself thinking about the intricate patterns and shapes as I snap away; mint green reindeer moss looking like bleached coral under a microscopic macro lens, and the swirling and meandering of ice a jigsaw of frozen motion. Twigs, branches and petals look like spores – after some manipulation. Suffice to say, I loved this kick-about and I loved learning about Ernst Haeckel and his gorgeous Illustrations. I could go on and on with creating designs like this and I have a hankering to do so!”
“It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art forms’ through time-lapse photography. It was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria, and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned.What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different.However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark…”
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile.
“Here’s my little offering for this week’s Kick-About: a plain and simple graphic study of some fascinating fungi I had in my photo archive of interesting stuff to draw one day. Not sure of their name, but this is no impediment to studying their forms and surfaces. The pattern in the backdrop is based on the folded, rippled surface on the stem. I think I’ve made them look monumental, when in reality they’re probably quite tiny. Great inking practice, my current obsession.”
“What fun this was! I looked in my collage box/reference book collection for nature images that I could combine to create new forms based on Haeckel’s paintings. This is a project that could go on and on…”
be always impossible be enchanted reaching out in reciprocity to meet the world halfway