As you walk up the beach towards the West Beach at Whitstable, you pass this impressive row of three storied houses, known as Wavecrest, and every year the residents co-ordinate to put a row of diminutive Christmas trees across the front of their respective houses. It makes for a particularly cheering sight, and I went out there for another muck-about, with the gloom and Wavecrest’s demure light-show as my muse.
A few more from the gloom of Seasalter beach, the scarcity of light and sprinkling of illuminations across the horizon producing some satisfying results. That done, it was time for a mince pie back in the warm.
Two alternate views of Harbour Street here in Whitstable, in all its glittery splendour. These photographs were taken on the night of December 3rd, as we did our usual quick circuit around the quiet, windswept town.
On a whim one drab December afternoon, we drove out to the nicely forlorn stretch of beach at Seasalter just as the last of the meagre light was leaving the sky. I was after a bit of pre-solstice melancholy and some smudging, so went for long exposures and a touch of de-focusing mid-shot. Lots of grain and seasonal desaturation ensued, and some spectral appearances too.
Our last Andy Goldsworthy-themed Kick-About together inspired some winter wonderlands (and some much less wintry offerings too, courtesy of Brisbane-based artist, James Randall). For this, our last creative runaround of 2021, we’re keeping things seasonal, with an illustration by Arthur Rackham for a festive classic. Enjoy this showcase of new works made in a short time, and wherever you are, and whoever you are, I wish you and yours all the very best. “Merry Christmas, one and all.”
“I jumped into this sweet text with no clear ideas, so dug out my favourite Pelican fountain pen and began a repetitive process of re-writing the narrative onto lightweight card cut to 140cm lengths. On completion, to counter the banality of what I’d done I re-wrote it, word-for-word, in free-form graffitti style; less mind-numbing, yet still clueless as to the intention. Days later, in woodland, I happened upon a magnificent, towering, perfectly-formed evergreen. With willow twigs in-hand, and the echo of Goldsworthy, I then attempted this balancing act. It may not be towering at 150cm, unless perhaps you’re that mouse not stirring on Christmas Eve. May all Kick-Abouters enjoy a healthy and happy holiday.”
“It’s the season of giving gifts, but these days it’s more like the season of GIFs for me. I’ve been making a lot of quick fire animations in my spare time, and producing some looping Christmas tree things seemed quite natural. I think this one is suitably high-tech but festively cheesy at the same time.”
“The night sky needs no man in a red suit, sleigh, or reindeer to inspire wonder.”
What To My Wondering Eyes
the night lengthens
into hours that refuse to pass
the stars grow larger,
suddenly a bridge,
a ladder made of light
silence becomes a dance,
its ancient steps retraced
the circle keeps its promise–
a child will lead the way
“I have taken some artistic license with this Kick-About, and you must imagine that it is early on Christmas Eve when the light is just starting to change before darkness falls. The weather is cold and there has been snow a few days earlier, which is now slushy . This young boy’s mother has said, ‘Hey Jack. Can you just run up to the woods and bring us back a little tree to decorate tonight? Your father’s so busy at the farm he’ll be exhausted by the time he get’s home and your brothers and sisters are so excited and can’t wait to start decorating it. I’ll never get them bathed and into bed asleep before Santa comes tonight!’ Christmas Eve is such a magical time and there is so much to do that it always flies by before you know it.
“And wishing all the Kick-About gang a relaxed, leisurely Christmas and a healthy new Year – artwork courtesy of Toby, my youngest grandson, who proudly carried this picture out from school this week.”
“The shadows in Arthur Rackham’s drawing are rather ominous, but I find there’s a spookiness lurking in so many of his images. His work is, on the surface, often enchanting and whimsical, but there’s a darkness and strangeness to them hiding just out of frame.
I’m submitting a painting that plays with similar themes for this Kick-About; shadows and light, mysterious things unseen, and a prickle of unease. I don’t know what’s going on behind the topiary here, perhaps somebody burning rubbish on a bonfire, or a streetlamp, or maybe something else…”
“Not much from me today, as I did these quick sketches on the journey to Stansted airport on my way back to Ireland! I couldn’t get over the eerie nature of Rackham’s scratchy shadows! I found his illustration horrifying – in the best way! For me, Rackham’s art always veers towards that polarising view of what is ‘charming’, where it is uncanny and not quite right. There’s something about the blackness of the line work, particularly with the scratchy shadows, and the way the sickly stained walls progressively get more bruised towards the top; making me think old Saint Nick isn’t as jolly as it’s told, and could be hiding in those shadows, ready to unhinge his bearded jaw and gobble up those kids as they run right up to him… ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake…'”
“I grew up in a very tall, very dark, very cold Victorian house, and although Arthur Rackham‘s drawing was done a quarter century earlier, the image instantly brought all my childhood fears back to me. There were shadows everywhere and permanently icy draughts that stroked the back of your neck, and then savagely slammed any door you were unwise enough not to shut securely behind you. It was great in daylight: high-ceilinged rooms and long corridors, changing floor levels, and plenty of hiding places. But when the night drew in…”
You you can find a PDF version here.
“I was thinking of the brilliant film, Nosferatu, with the shadow of the vampire climbing the stairs then put that into the traditional snack left out for Santa! Enjoy Christmas everybody, however you choose to spend the time. Have fun and keep cosy.”
“On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience. Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’. *Snicker*.
Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. Rackham’s illustration of these three boys heading up to bed captures this feeling very precisely; it’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story.”
You can find a PDF version here
“Thanks Gary Thorne for your good advice to take a sub-tropical approach. And so I landed on the hot nights when the heat spins about you as you search for the numbness of sleep. I could have used a darker palette for night. I had the Christmas excuse to use the gold paint that I was too conservative to use previously – wish I could share the metallic on screen. So as the year darts to a close thanks to all of you wonderful KAers and your inspirational works. They amaze me every week and make me want to try harder to capture some of your spark. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy happy 2022!”
Courtesy of Kick-Abouter (and artful Christmas Tree wrangler) Gary Thorne, we have a new prompt to carry you through those moments when, despite all the food and other festivities, you’re twiddling your thumbs and wish there was a classic example of mid-Century kinetic art to inspire you…
An unlikely subject for a photograph perhaps: a couple of drain covers and a thin covering of snow, but this graphical little composition must have caught by eye back in January 2017, when I was out and about in a wintry Katowice, Poland.
A final set of studies produced in response to The Kick-About No.42 – more Clematis tangutica seed heads entombed in a hemisphere of ice, but producing some pleasingly painterly impressions and lots and lots of swirl.
Some deep-frozen foliage today, inspired by the prompt for The Kick-About No. 42: a caramel-coloured leaf-tip from an Osmunda regalis, and the reddish plum tones of the Parthenocissus henryana. In its almost jellied-way, the topmost image just reminds me of a Nautilus belauensis, those octopus-like creatures with their striped shells (and the ice block proved just as slippery, as it rolled about on the table-top…).
A little festive offering today, throwing back but a few short days to the last weekend in November, when we gathered with a few of our neighbours for the grand switching on the Albert Street lights… Well, if not grand exactly, then a nice touch nonetheless, with the residents in our short row of terraced houses agreeing to string cascades of glowing icicles along the length of the street. There were even hot mince pies and mugs of mulled wine to stave off the cold – and it was cold, of course, the wind coming straight off the north sea to flap our coats and chase us back inside.
Although the weather has turned much colder here in the UK, it’s not yet cold enough here in Whitstable for any shows of ice or snow. With Andy Goldsworthy’s land art piece Ice Spiral as the prompt for this week’s Kick-About No. 42, I knew I’d be out of luck if I was hoping to catch any ready-made installations out in the wilds.
No matter, as off into the garden I went, looking for interesting seed heads and any flashes of remaining colour, before pulling out some handy Tuppaware and a big Pyrex dish, filling them with water, then entombing my finds from the garden in ice, courtesy of the bottom drawer of the freezer.
Once released from their ad-hoc moulds, I then moved quickly to photograph the resulting artefacts, squizzing with pleasure at their magical displays of colour, light and translucency – while all the time mopping up the pools of melt water with an old dishcloth.
There’s an obvious ‘glass paperweight’ quality to these images (which I always loved as a child), a sort of 1970’s crafting vibe too. Some of the more abstracted images I went on to produce from these same blocks of ice take things in a more impressionist, less object-bound direction. I’ll be sharing these over the coming days.