Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Appreciation

The glitterati of Boston and Massachusetts ceramic and art society were there at the opening. In the speeches you would have thought I was as important as Picasso.

The response is full-on and enthusiastic. One collector told me she had bought a piece of mine from my last show here and then found the colours of her house did not work, so she bought a new beach house for the pot and designed the décor around it.

Another collector spent a very long time communing with the pots.  He gazed deep into the vessels, and was stroking them, feeling with his hands where my hands had been in the clay, noting all the thumbprints and fingermarks, and delighting in his visceral connection.

Some people had been following my work for years, and noticed developments and how it is evolving. Considering this is my first solo show in the USA, I wondered how they knew it so well. They said it has been featured in many books here, and over twenty-five years ago I was in a show of British Ceramics in Dallas which people remember. And some had been at a big arts conference, NCECA, three years ago in which I was the International Guest Presenter.

I was truly surprised to find that so many people here know my work well. I had thought that to most of the people at the opening I would be a new artist, but it was certainly not the case.

Lucy introduced me to all these people who seemed like immediate friends. It is a fairly intimate connection for me when people respond to my work so well. I know I am going to like them because they understand the essence of me. (Which is why I have always had a soft spot for Tony Blair as he is on record in a Sunday newspaper holding a piece of mine saying it is one of his favourite things.)  
Red spots were now appearing rapidly.

And then Lucy, myself and some of the guests had dinner in the gallery. It was a lovely gesture and a great way to get to know everyone, to talk, and then in pauses to look up and see the colourful ceramics dancing.

So all of my fears were totally groundless.

Now it is early the next morning and I have been invited to go pilot gig rowing here today with a club in Gloucester, which being America is only ten miles from Manchester and 40 from Weymouth. Bideford is not far either!

It should be a perfect balance to the arty activities in which I am expressing my individuality; in rowing I am in the boat with 6 others and we have to be in perfect harmony otherwise the boat slows. The sun is shining, the weather is warm and lets hope the sea is not too bouncy. I will find out if there are traditional boat builders here too, being kept alive by the resurgence of interest in sea gig rowing as a sport.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Friday, 22 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Communication

As I write this, I must admit to being a little nervous about how the opening will go; part of me dreads being there for fear of not being understood. There will be speeches made by the high-ups of the Boston artworld, and people will want to talk to me about my work and I wont know what to say. My fear is that I will shrivel and mumble and talk gibberish.

Then I tell myself perhaps it wont be that bad; I was anxious before the Harvard day and my fears melted away when I met the people there who said they were honoured to meet me, and that they had admired my work for years.  So maybe it will be OK today, but I am still worried. If Lucy were to telephone and say I am not needed (actually I was told that by one gallery many years ago, that artists just get in the way at openings and invite all their friends, which is partly true I think), I would say “thank you” and go for a walk. But that would be cowardly.

I do this as a way of communicating. I cant sing, I am not much good as a dancer, I have tried to play the piano but struggle, but I can play and improvise and place clay and colour in an original way.  And as it is a way of communicating, then surely I must want to continue the dialogue with those who understand?  “But what if they don’t?” comes the fearful voice.

I will have to trust – just as I trust when I do the work in the first place – that whatever happens will be OK. If I am attached to wanting some sort of particular outcome, then I am just making it hard for myself.  So maybe I can enjoy the opening by not being attached to having to be understood or admired. Yes, I think I can do that, as an observer of the human condition. And I do like my own work myself – I am very pleased indeed with it, so it will be fun to go and see it again and to share a glass of wine with some new friends.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown: http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Exploration in Clay

I am so pleased with the title of the show, Visual Jazz. It just came to me in a flash. I have often been aware of an understanding and empathy with saxophonists who say, on hearing back the music they have just played, that they have no idea how they did that. Improvisation is like that, it allows playful experimentation and exploration, drawing on everything we have done before.  The more I look at my work, the more that the title Visual jazz conveys the way I work, in free expression, using clay and colour, and a childlike connection to the moment, without worrying if it is going to work or not, or if it is going be good or not. None of that is relevant at the time.  

In the latest pieces in the show I have incorporated some rich earthy brick clay into the body, and then partially overlaid that with layers of pure white porcelain. I have a box of toys, in which I keep things which will make an interesting texture as I press them into the clay.  Such as a jacaranda seedpod from Trinidad, the square end of a piece of cut wood, bits of curled wire from old electric storage heaters and the sole of my shoe. 

Pressing these textured bits and pieces into the clay is FUN. I don’t plan, I don’t think about balance or structure or form, I actually don’t need to as a need to control gets in the way.  I can safely leave it to my intuition, much as I can leave the editing of Resurgence to Susan and Satish, or the display of my exhibition to Lucy. I, or what I think of as my I-ness, just gets in the way and interferes. 

So I have learned to stay back, and just watch what comes. And interestingly, there is always a structure. There is always a balance; just as there is a balance in a tree, or a rose leaf.  It may not consist of straight lines and formulae, it may be asymmetrical or off-centre, but nonetheless the sense of balance is there in an organic way. We all know this, it is in the core of our being, which is often why we recognise it when we see it in art, even if we don’t know that that is what we are doing.

As the pots dry they shrink, as earth does in a drought, and the porcelain surface crackles and crinkles delightfully geologically. Its whiteness is asking for colours; and they show clearly and fully. So I have titled the pieces using musical terms, such as Riff, Andante Ma Non Troppo, Bose Bouncing and Razzma tazz.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown: http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Creating the Exhibition

Before the workshop, I have been resting for a few days in Concord. It is a beautifully preserved town with an English feel despite it being the birth of the revolution. While I have been enjoying walking about the leafy streets admiring the weatherboard houses, huge broadleaves trees and interesting bird sounds, Lucy Lacoste, the gallerist, has been working on the exhibition display. She has a particular ability to call on an intuitive intense focus on each piece, and is creating a vivid strength of environment for each artwork in the show.

She works slowly, very slowly, she has been working on the display for nearly five days, with her tireless indefatigable helper, Linda. Lucy lays out all the work on the floor in what looks like a jumble, and spends time absorbing the form and colour and sense of each piece, so that her creativity can come into play with the exhibition layout. She does not like having artists around while she is doing this, and was visibly relieved when I said I would stay away and leave it to her as she knows the space. I was tired when I got here, so it suited me too!

During the five days she was working on the display she was as focussed and as intense as I am when I am in the studio creating the work; although I dropped in to the gallery a couple of times to see if I could be of any help lifting pieces, Lucy was polite and kind but it was clear her mind was elsewhere. She was thinking about each piece and how it would look in relation to each other piece around it. It is a great art, the art of display and exhibition ‘hanging’, and can only be done quietly and without distractions.    

And now that the display is done and the work on show it is clear that Lucy has done an excellent job. Each piece sings.

She was a potter herself originally, and so understands the medium and the people in it. She has the great respect of all the ceramic artists in the USA and shows the best of them, so I am in very good company. She shows adventurous work, and is not afraid to experiment, to welcome new directions.

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown: http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Visual Jazz: Harvard Visiting Artists

The first in a series of blogs by internationally renowned ceramicist Sandy Brown, on the lead up to her exhibition Visual Jazz.

I am in Concord Massachusetts for the opening of my exhibition Visual Jazz at the Lacoste gallery here.  Yesterday I did a workshop and talk as part of the Harvard University Visiting Artists programme, demonstrating being free and fearless with clay and moving ones arms about in a loose relaxed fashion.  The lively acting director of the studio told me when we met that she had been using images of my work for years in her talks to her students.  

The Harvard Ceramic Studio is very interesting because of its open policy – amazingly it is open 24 hours a day for students, many of whom are studying on other university courses here, or are employees of Harvard University, or have regular jobs.  They have great need of the late night opportunities provided. 

It is remarkable in the breadth of its intake; participants in my workshop here ranged from some internationally known ceramic artists to one woman who said it was her first day in the studio. As several of the top ceramic degree courses in the UK are being shut down this model offers ideas for a possible way forward. It is largely self-funding in spite of its connection and support it receives from the University. This gives it an independence and strength.

There are many Ceramic studios in the USA that offer residencies and workshops and I have been invited to do more here in the future, which is very tempting. 

Sandy Brown is an internationally renowned ceramicist who lives and works in North Devon. She is the Art Advisor at Resurgence magazine.
Find out more about Sandy Brown: http://www.sandybrownarts.com/sandybrownarts.htm

Visual Jazz exhibition takes place at Lacoste Gallery from 16 July to 3 August 2011

Monday, 18 July 2011

At the heart of healing

High summer and the 5th meeting of the Cornwall Resurgence Group was set to be outside around a fire. Mark arrived first as I was tending the fire and I made him tea while we chatted about gardening. I was showing him around our garden when Simon arrived and I made more tea – from a ‘chocolate mint’ plant from the garden which turned out to be the most delicious mint tea I have ever tasted.

We retired to the top of the garden laden with food. My (not quite vegan) kebabs, Mark’s delicious stew made with home-grown veg and Simon’s mixed fruit crumble warming in the oven.

Finally, for this meeting I had read the right issue of Resurgence, cover to cover. I kicked off with a comment about how I preferred this issue to the last. It is based around storytelling and on opening it I felt all the excitement of having a ‘Christmas Annual’ from a favourite source: the promise before me of favourite authors, lovely illustrations and even a special on Schumacher – a personal ‘hero’.

It didn’t really take and the conversation switched to why there were only 3 of us at the meeting. A couple of people had contacted to say why they couldn’t come and it is quite a small group anyway. Raymond, the artist from Boscastle had died since the last meeting – taken by a nasty cancer. I confessed that I had thought about cancelling the meeting, but didn’t feel it was right. (In fact now I’m not going to cancel it even if it’s just me!)

The conversation evolved into one about Resurgence and its unique demographic in the context of expanding its readership. Our group seems to be very specifically clustered around the 50-ish age group. We share interests in gardening, nature, ecology, ‘slow food’, authenticity and self-awareness, along with an appreciation of arts and crafts, with all of us ‘creatives’ in some sense.

The magazine is integrative in a culture that leans towards specialisation. Its readership has been shrinking in an age where magazines are seen as a luxury and new media is becoming the norm. Although Resurgence is adapting to this and has a strong online presence, neither Mark nor Simon had accessed it due to different media consumption patterns. I suspect that although the magazine is now online, its unique formula has yet to find appeal for younger consumers. But please correct me if I am wrong (comments below).

The conversation moved onto media consumption patterns. We compared notes on laptops, computers, TV and so on – coming to the conclusion that one day all of the channels will be available on just one device that will be too complicated for anyone to work…

But then as the cloak of night settled in around us, we found ourselves inside ‘archetypal time’. Three authentic ‘Resurgence’ blokes, opening ourselves to each other, disclosing personal things about life, the universe and everything. We compared our spiritual values, which were surprisingly diverse, sitting round a fire in the heart of ancient Cornwall. But what was so special is that we were totally accepting of the diversity of each other. There was no ‘my God is better than your God’ here, just a total being in the moment, a sharing and acceptance of each other, a deep relating between men. Time disappeared.

Eventually Mark looked at his watch and found it was midnight and we broke up the meeting as we all had work the next day. But I was left wanting more of this.

This excellent meeting of three male minds round a fire was most unexpected and enjoyable. I also think that this open intimacy of mind between men is at the heart of healing many dis-eases of our culture.

I kept the fire going all next day as a tribute to these fine guys who shared moments – and in memory of Raymond.

Simon Mitchell lives on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and loves growing things in his garden, then eating them. He writes about ecology issues, makes beautiful websites and publishes books. He also runs a Resurgence Readers’ Group. Pick up his free eco-zine at: http://www.nettlesoup.org.uk/

Friday, 15 July 2011

Harm into Harmony

Examples of human-inflicted harm surround us. But if we hope for a better future we must cultivate visions of a restored balance. Nurture harmony in our own lives as well as seeking inspiring examples: A child day-dreaming in a field of wild flowers, or the family-run small holding that has turned to edible forest farming, or perhaps a person who has won the tenuous trust of a wild creature’s heart.

I know such a person, who has dedicated the last twelve years of her life to cultivating a marvelous and trusting friendship with a wild dolphin off the coast of Ireland. Though the sea is cold and often rough, day in and day out she braves the elements and the two friends head out into the wilds. They explore reefs and shoals and waving kelp beds, and perhaps most interesting of all, this dolphin introduces her to other creatures in the marine community – seals, sunfish, basking sharks, porpoises and even other dolphins, all presented with that wry dolphin smile. This magical trust is not something that could be bought for any price. It has been earned. 

If there is one thing about humankind that might make it special, it is that we hold at least the potential to befriend all wild creatures and in some manner, speak, walk (or swim) with and care for them all. 

I leave you with a recommendation: a diminutive but most marvelous book on this worthy topic called Kinship With All Life, by J. Allen Boone.

Leah Lemieux is an author and lecturer who works on dolphin protection, education and conservation initiatives. For more information on her work visit:  www.RekindlingTheWaters.com

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Opening Peru's Secret Treasure Chest

A conversation with conservationist Stefan Austermühle.

Peru is known for its inland treasures, for its mountains and rainforests, ancient ruins and rich culture. But there is an undiscovered treasure in Peru, or more accurately, in its oceans. Stefan Austermühle of the conservation organisation Mundo Azul and the marine eco-tourism company Nature Expeditions, told me more about this unrecognised marine hotspot.
This part of the Pacific is vaguely known to have a high biomass (meaning biological mass, i.e. a lot of anchovies). But what remains unrecognised is its astonishing biodiversity (meaning many different animals, i.e. not just anchovies.) The water here is dense, it is a "Floating soup of food", but with no existing culture of marine tourism to promote it, no one knows of its bounteous beauty.
The richness of the Peruvian coastal waters is the result of two ocean currents. One is the Humboldt Current, which flows northwards along the Peruvian coast, bringing with it cool, oxygen rich waters from Antarctica. The other is a strong upwelling close to the Peruvian coast which draws up nutrient rich water. These two currents combined cause a very high production of algae, and consequently form the basis for an extraordinarily rich diversity of marine life. There is one big party going on here, and everyone is invited, be they a charismatic whale or a humble mollusc.
The figures which Stefan gives are, quite simply, staggering. "Over 30 species of cetaceans either reside or migrate here to feed. That's 37% of the total number of cetacean species in the world. There are 1,000 species of fish, 600 crustaceans and 1,400 molluscs. There are sea lions, fur seals and sea otters. There are 87 species of marine birds, 27 of which are albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels, and seven are gulls."
When Stefan takes tourists out on trips with Nature Expeditions, they are at a loss for words. More than 1,500 bottlenose dolphins reside along one short stretch of coastline near Lima, which means there are a staggering six dolphins per kilometre. Viewing the dead desert meeting the sparkling ocean and watch dolphins leaping out of the water against a background of dramatic sand dunes, takes people's breath away.
Kayak tour operators from other countries have told him that they have never in their life seen as many species of marine birds and animals as they see in Peru on a two hour kayak trip. Divers are amazed to see rocks covered in a carpet of life not just one animal deep, but two or thee animals all sitting on top of each other!
One of Stefan's personal favourite nature experiences is swimming with sea lions. In Stefan's words, "Swimming with sea lions is great. Sea lions make contact with you, they gently nibble at you to see what strange creature you are. They are funny, they play, they sneak up on you and shoot away when you turn and look at them!"
In could be assumed that it is a blessing for Peru's ocean to remain unknown to the world at large. After all, surely this means that it will not become spoilt. However, as Stefan says,
"The ocean here is being overfished, contaminated and destroyed, and no one knows about it. Nobody sees the plastic bags and other waste floating in the waves. Because no one sees it, there is no one to shout out 'Wait, what are you doing to this beautiful ocean!' Conservation only works when people are aware of the fact that beauty can disappear. When no one is aware, no one cares, and when no one cares, unscrupulous people are free to continue destroying."
I asked Stefan what he hopes Mundo Azul and Nature Expeditions can achieve in the future. He replied, "Helping people to discover the beauty, so that they care and take action to protect it."
There is a huge potential in Peru for marine eco-tourism. The more successful Nature Expeditions and other companies become, the more well known Peru's ocean treasures become. Stefan hopes this will start the metaphorical snowball rolling on its way to providing incomes for local people and, importantly, gaining the worldwide recognition which the area needs to ensure its protection for the future.
Stefan Austermühle is the director of the conservation organisation Mundo Azul, and the marine eco-tourism company Nature Expeditions, in Lima, Peru. To find out more about each organisation go to: http://mundoazul.org/ and http://nature-expeditions-peru.com/
Amanda Banks is a freelance writer from England, currently engaged in a three month project writing about the life and work of cetacean conservationists in North and South America. To read more of her posts on conservationists, go to: http://amandabanks.com/blog/

Photographs, copyright: Mundo Azul