Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Roots @ Solihull Arts Complex

Well it seems like it's either feast or famine when it comes to exhibiting my work.  Have not exhibited since graduating from Solihull college last year with a degree in Fine Art and quite frankly have been bumbling along really not knowing quite what to do in terms of my art practice but now two exhibitions have come along at once. I belong to a group of textile artists called 'Running Stitch' and our new exhibition Roots starts today in G2 gallery at Solihull Arts Complex. Regulars to this blog will know that I also have another piece of work Portminster Beach Cafe in Reflection in G1 gallery next door, the current exhibition by Solihull Artists' Forum. 

Ice Creams

Roots looks at our origins and sense of place portrayed in stitch. For my interpretation of the theme I have looked at old family photographs which conjure up memories of times gone by, of people, places, holidays and events.  They serve as a permanent reminder of who we are, where we come from, our family and friends and of people we don't want to forget.  Our photographs and our memories are our roots and I have chosen to translate these old holiday snaps into stitch using vintage embroidered linens.

Don't let go of my Hand
We have all interpreted the theme Roots in our own way, using stitch to create a broad range of textile art works. There are some wonderful examples of embroidery, some combined with painting and other textile and mixed-media techniques. If you are in the Solihull area please pop into Solihull Library and Arts Complex and come and see what we have been working towards over the last 12 months. Why not kill two birds with one stone and come along to view Reflections too.  Roots runs till 5th October and Reflection runs till 12th October.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Reflection @ Solihull Arts Complex

Solihull Artists' Forum's latest exhibition Reflection is now showing at Solihull Arts Complex.  This is my first exhibition with SAF and my first since graduating from Solihull College last year.

Mark Tilley's sea going vessels

Take a look back at my previous posts Reflection & Porthminster Beach Cafe to read all about the making of my first art quilt which is my piece for this exhibition.

Porthminster Beach Cafe (detail) - Jacqui Thomson

If you live in and around the Solihull area or even beyond then please come along and take a look. We have all interpreted the Reflection theme in our own medium so there is a diverse mix of new paintings, sculpture, glass, ceramics, textiles and jewellery. The exhibition runs till the 12th October.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is complete and finally opened its doors on the 3rd September. For just over 3 and a half years, the people of Birmingham, most of them like myself walking to and from work, but not forgetting the throngs making their way up to the delightful hot spots of Broad Street for a night of merriment, have watched this building grow and emerge from a building site behind the huge white boards into this splendid piece of modern architecture which I think has transformed the Brummie cityscape. On the same day, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which has been closed for two and a half years to enable the new library to be built alongside, also opened its doors for business with a production of Alan Bennett's new comedy The House. The theatre has been completely refurbished with the addition of a new 300 seat auditorium and extended foyer which now links it to the The Library of Birmingham and the REP's original iconic facade has been cleaned and restored to its former glory.  

The £189m library houses a collection of one million books, 200 public access computers, theatres, an exhibition gallery and music rooms, not forgetting of course the obligatory cafe. It was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban for championing women's rights and who was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and now lives in the city. As part of the opening ceremony, Malala placed her copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho in the library - the last book to go on the shelves. In these days of dwindling bookshops and public libraries partly due to sales of ebooks outstripping sales of printed books, it's encouraging to think that money has been invested into library services aimed at introducing and encouraging people to engage with the written word. 

I belong to two book groups and we all buy hard copies of the chosen books,(in fact for one of my groups we make full use of our local library in Shirley, Solihull by borrowing all the books we need which is a service that all libraries offer to book groups. A library is much much more than just a place to go and borrow a book to read). I'm not alone in enjoying the physicality of holding a book and turning the pages which is all part of the love of reading. There is something quite exquisite and virginal about a brand new book and it almost seems a crime to crease the spine. I like having two or three books on the go which I can delve into dependent on mood.  I have not yet succumbed to the Kindle but then again I once said I would never buy a digital camera thinking they would never catch on. I am not a luddite and I do think there is certainly a place for them. To be honest if they encourage young people, who are so used to using electronic devices, to read books then I can't sing their praises enough.  I do admit to thinking having a Kindle would be a boon on holiday as it would save having to pack a boot full, or suitcase full of holiday reads. Also, on holiday recently, I took quite a thick page turner of a novel away with me and the heat of the sun, combined with residues of sun cream and the general flinging it in and out of my beach bag made the book completely disintegrate and I ended up with pages floating away down the river.  Another benefit is it would certainly save me having to wear a head torch in the tent when reading at night so maybe one day....

Rock n Roll in Chamberlain Square

Anyway enough of my pontificating. To mark the opening of the Library of Birmingham, on 6th - 8th September, major arts organisations joined forces to celebrate with a weekend of outdoor arts. Called 4Squares Weekender, the city's central squares - Oozells in Brindleyplace, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria were transformed with live music, dance, art, film, circus and theatre.

In Oozells Square Ikon Gallery played a major role in the celebrations with the creation of a giant city and canalscape made of clay where children and grown-ups alike all joined in to get their hands dirty for an afternoon of messy fun.

The cityscape though ended up looking far more like a fantasy world.

Moored on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal in Brindleyplace outside the National Sealife Centre is Ikon's very own floating art venue called Slow Boat. Members of Ikon's Youth programme were on board to help with Clayground Collective's Clay Cargo installation.  The boat acts as a stage for on-board exhibitions, canal-side performances, screenings, installations, theatrical events, talks and activities in various locations en route. The young people take Slow Boat on numerous day and weekend trips, plus longer voyages outside Birmingham along the many canal routes that link the city to the rest of the country.

Each year a contemporary artist  works in residency alongside the IYP to redesign the boat. This year Navin Rawanchaikul inspired by his Thai and Pakistani heritage hosts Navinland, a floating campaign to find other Navins, with a number of celebratory events organised whilst sailing through the Central Shires and East Midland waterways.

Couldn't go for long without stopping for refreshments at Cafe Opus at Ikon.

In Central Square, Brindleyplace, an aerial sculpture by Pif Paf a mechanical world of action, metal and rope.

Kept spotting these people everywhere. Described as a sculptural flash mob the Reds mingled with the crowds creating quite a stir.  They would happily pose for photographs but retained an air of mystery by not engaging in any conversation.

On then to Victoria Square where I spotted this colourful washing line outside the Council House. Are these clothes what our Brummie councillors are wearing these days. They would do wise then not to wash their  dirty linen in public. 


Another welcome pitstop at the Post Office Vaults

In Chamberlain Square, some of Birmingham's finest Reggae artists took to the stage in Reggae Splash with  Basil Gabbidon, Yaz Alexander, Peter Spence, Tenna Star and Musical Youth.

Now I love reggae and could not resist having a little boogie on down to it all, hence why the following films might be a bit jerky as I was trying to film as well as dance. Here is Basil Gabbidon and Backing Band.

Remember in the 1980s Pass the Dutchie by Musical Youth?  It was a major hit in the UK, holding the number one position on singles charts there for three weeks in October 1982 and selling 5 million copies worldwide. Here they are again singing it in their home town for the people of Birmingham. I have to say though they are not quite so youthful now. 

Finally an unforgettable late-night spectacular presented by Birmingham Hippodrome and Wired Aerial Theatre.  As the World Tipped combined dramatic film and visuals with breath taking aerial performance and stunning choreography.

Demand was so high to tour the Library of Birmingham, with queues spiralling and growing ever longer outside, it was just far too busy to get in so disappointingly the tour of the interior will have to wait till  another day. In fact by 11th September 100,000 visitors had passed through its doors.

I get to meet and chat to many visitors to the Ikon Gallery where I work as a visitor assistant and so far all have come in absolutely buzzing about the new library. The response has been overwhelmingly in favour and not quite the blott on the landscape that many Birmingham residents thought it might be. As a Brummie I have always been tremendously proud of my home town and get annoyed when people give it a bad press. Folk who have never visited or only ever viewed it from the M6 on their way to the north and south of the country and who probably listen to people like Jeremy Clarkson (who frankly should grow up a bit instead of spending his time playing with his toy cars and making a living out of insulting the good people and places of the UK and rest of the world - don't get me started).  It has definitely injected new life and interest into Birmingham and the city centre from both the people who live here and tourists who from the feed back I get all say what a beautiful city we have.  

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Porthminster Beach Cafe

On BBC4 there is a great little occasional series called What do Artists do all Day?  Well I can tell you what we don't do all day which is to sit around chatting about the meaning of life and wondering how to translate that into paint. What we do is work bloody hard! Especially when there is an exhibition at stake with a deadline looming. I have just finished my first art quilt for Solihull Artists' Forum exhibition Reflection and believe me it has been a real labour of love and certainly not without its fair share of trials and tribulations.

Porthminster Beach Cafe (detail) 2013 - Hand-dyed cotton fabrics, acrylic & free-machine embroidery

Along the way there has been much sewing machine rage. There have been times when I could have taken a stick to my machine and thrashed her (shades of Basil Fawlty here with his incalcitrant Austin 1100 or it may have been a 1300 for any eagle-eyed motoring pedants out there.) Why is it when you are working to a deadline to finish a piece of work things start to go awry, get over complicated or never quite turn out how you want them to (a bit like life really). Well, I put my foot down and drove my sewing machine like a Ferrari (or maybe even an 1100/1300). I drove her to within an inch of her life, showing no mercy until finally she  surrendered. She ground to a halt, dug her heels in and got her own back for all the insults and sweary words thrown in her general direction. (Married life?!!). Luckily my friend June kindly came to the rescue and let me borrow one of her sewing machines but this proved equally temperamental with June's machine seemingly coming out in sympathy with the sewing machine sisterhood and becoming difficult and feisty. Needless to say I gave her a good telling off which seemed to calm her down a bit.  Some sewing machines do seem to have minds of their own trying to trip you up by spitting out birds nest tangles of threads and breaking needles. They need to be taken in hand and shown who's boss.(Yes, sounds definitely like married life).  

For my interpretation of our theme Reflection I chose to translate into stitch a photo of my daughter Emily taken while on holiday in St Ives, Cornwall. She was only 7 years old at the time but at the end of a hard day's body boarding, building a spectacular Hogwarts sandcastle complete with moat, and frequent trips to queue for toilets, teas, coffees and ice-cream, we were all pleasantly frazzled and glowing from the sun. We had then got the long arduous trek back up to the car park laden down with beach towels, flip-flops, wind break, wet suits, sun creams (Factors, 15, 30 & total sun-block for Emily which made her look like a ghost), beach tent, body boards, books and bucket and spade, so we put off the inevitable and decided to reward ourselves with dinner on the beach at the Porthminster Beach Cafe.

Porthminster Beach Cafe (detail) 2013 - Hand-dyed cotton fabrics, acrylic & free-machine embroidery

Our table was next to a huge mirror and I remember looking across at Emily and her reflection as in turn she stared back at my reflection in the mirror. I had my camera handy and could not resist snapping her as she sat ravenous after her exhausting day on the beach, impatient for her Spaghetti Bolognese to arrive. 

I had had an equally exhausting day trying to keep everyone happy with a constant supply of sand-sandwiches, drinks, crisps, books, newspapers, comics, ice-cream and sun cream applications. Whoever said sunbathing was relaxing? Everyone gets slicked up with their relevant sun factor then you go in the sea and you have to start the whole process again.  Anyone with children will know just how difficult it is to get a child to stand still long enough for sun cream to be applied and this usually results in much whinging and whining when the sun cream comes in contact with the sand stuck to their bodies and they end up being sand-papered down. Then just as you have got yourself oiled with sun cream, nicely positioned on the beach towel and just taken the book-mark out of your Richard & Judy holiday read, you get asked by someone if you wouldn't mind just putting a bit of sun cream on their back.

No, sunbathing certainly has its fair share of unrelaxing moments and don't get me started on the wetsuit merry go-round which has to be alternated with the swimsuit/bikini when going in and out of the water and anyone who has a wetsuit will know they are probably about the most difficult thing to get on and off and this had to be done several times a day to keep the little one happy. So I too was sitting reflecting on my relaxing day, impatiently waiting for a refreshing bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to arrive which when it did came in a charming ice filled seaside bucket not unlike the one Emily used to build Hogwarts. 

This is just a sneak preview of the full sized quilt so if you can get along go and see it in the flesh in Reflection which runs from 10th September to 12th October at Solihull Arts Complex with a launch event on the evening of 12th September from 6.15 - 7.45 and Artists' Talk on the evening of 19th September at the same time as above. It's a great exhibition with lots of painting, sculpture, glass, textiles, ceramics and jewellery so please come along and take a look.  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Yarn Bombing in Bishop's Castle

On a camping trip last week to the charming, delightful, arty, quirky, small but deliciously formed market town of Bishop's Castle in South West Shropshire, which also just happens to have a bountiful supply of 6 pubs not to mention 2 breweries liberally sprinkled up and down the high street (but thats another story to follow in a future blog), I realised that the town had fallen victim to an attack of Yarn Bombing.  Now to the uninitiated Yarn Bombing by definition is "a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre."  As a keen knitwit myself I found this all rather exciting so attempted to find and photograph as many Yarn Bombs as I could find.  I think I got them all so here they are:


All became apparent when on an evening visit to The Three Tuns pub and brewery I stumbled across the perpetrators the Knitwits, the very friendly local knitting group led by the ladies from the Art & Artisan Bookshop, who meet every Thursday evening in the bar area for an evening of knitting and chat washed down with splendid delights of real ale such as Clerics Cure, 1642 and Rantipole. If I had brought my knitting along (which I often do when on holiday as I don't like being too far away from a pair of pins and some yarn) I would certainly have joined them.