Saturday, March 7, 2009

Creekside Open

I finally got round to making my own version of the Willow Pattern. It's been fermenting for a while, but delayed in execution. I was trying to get hold of some round ready-made canvases but Cornelisson's who usually sell them were out of stock. I was also thinking of hanging out at Ceramic Biscuit Cafe in Greenwich and drawing a plate there and have them fire it...

With the deadline for submissions to the Creekside Open ( approaching fast (last weekend), I found myself, three days before the deadline, helping friends with their submissions (getting images onto CD) but was undecided over what I would submit if anything. The artist Mark Wallinger is one of the judges. Wallinger won the Turner Prize in 2007 (

The thought that Wallinger, of all people, might actually get what I've been doing made me get off my arse and begin my Creekside Willow. I nipped off down the high street and bought some white plates (paper, plastic and ceramic) in all the pound shops. The last pound shop I tried sold the perfect plate - big enough for an image and beautifully plain. At the newsagents I bought some blue permanent markers. These worked fine on the plastic surface and I transferred a drawing I'd been working on (with the help of collaging images on the computer) to the plate.

It turned out a bit wonky, but then the original Willow isn't exact either. It's an idealised version too - some buildings are still under construction and there should be more of them. Plus the two churches (St Paul's in Deptford and St Alfege's in Greenwich) ought to be in there...and there are no people on the bridge...

Creekside Willow With Vultures 30cmx30cm Plastic plate with felt tip

The plate was finished the night before the deadline day, but I still hadn't invented a border for the plate, so I got in touch with Nick Bertram at Creekside Centre and obtained some Creek mud...I was remembering seeing plates half buried in the mud in the Creek.

The mud links into the subject of the Creek, mud as clay, and the potteries that used to be here. I donned waders and dipped the plate in...

Creekside Willow With Vultures and Creek Mud

I took a bucket of mud back to the studio with me to set up a different presentation. If presented in a gallery, the mud would dry out, so I didn't really get it how I wanted it here - it's still wet and there wasn't enough of it.

I also tried presenting the plate on a Chinoiserie-style wallpaper sample that I'd picked up recently from B&Q. This gave me the idea of redrawing the wallpaper to show the pale pastoral scenes as more contemporary, but there wasn't time to do this.

The deadline was at 5pm on the Saturday and I made it with minutes to spare. Submissions were to be handed in at the APT Gallery where there was a show on of three female artists. One of these artists, Toni McGreachan, remarked on how many people had been into the gallery that day - she had counted over 70 - and most of them were delivering Creekside Open submissions.

The chances of being picked are next to zero, but I am glad that having the opportunity to enter gave me the impetus to start working on this idea...there's still some way to go: explore the contemporary Chinoiserie-style wallpaper idea, and work on a border (or ribbon) for the plate...perhaps made up of financial motifs like the Royal Bank of Scotland logo. RBS are one of the partners in the Creekside Village development. But the development is still going ahead; they seem to have completed the underground car park and are beginning the ground floor structure. You don't have three cranes on site if you're not doing anything.
I should really make more of those glass shards on my plate.

Joanne Kerr at A Cup of Tea Solves Everything

I nearly of the exhibits I like at the Cup of Tea show is funny little project by Joanne Kerr called TEA TALES, or Urban Wildlife: Tea Tales Picture Cards.

Joanne has printed up some little cards like the ones we used to get in packets of tea, plus a little booklet to stick them in. Rather than the pictures of birds and other animals that people used to collect (which had information about the species on the back), she has photographed the humble polystyrene cup in a variety of guises (decorated or with props) to resemble people in the urban environment. For instance, there are characters like The Therapist (the cup has two large handles attached which resemble huge ears), or The Builder (the cup is hodcarrying sugar lumps with a plastic spoon), The Gardener, The Hairdresser, and my favourite, The Gangster. The Gangster (gangsteramus) is black with a handle attached in the shape of knuckle dusters.

The Gardener (hortis planetarium) cup is decorated with a dark green pattern and its description reads: "a true native of England but it has been introduced into several other countries where, as it is a virile and adaptive species, it has thrived. It is regarded as a pest by the common slug for it is tenacious in its quest for food and does not take well to competition. It is most often seen in spring and summer. At first it stands erect but later droops."

Most of the work in the show is light hearted. I seem to be the only one weighed down by the history of tea.

Trouble Brewing

My mother sent me a clipping from her newspaper of an article printed the same day as the A Cup of Tea Solves Everything show opened (20 Feb). Peter Jenkinson was writing about the price of tea...In typical Daily Express scare fashion we are told "The price could rise by 50%".

"The main factors influencing the price of tea are...a weakening of the pound coupled with severe political unrest in Kenya, a major supplier of the commodity" (which is traded in dollars).

This is really an update on a similar story which was reported at the same time last year (Feb 08) when post election troubles started in Kenya and thousands of tea plantation workers were forced to flee the land as violence erupted, and wholesale prices rose by up to 30%.

Jenkinson says the industry has been reluctant to pass on cost increases to consumers. I'd say, though, that they've just been selling us CRAP tea. The PG Tips teabags I have been buying are rubbish.

But what I didn't know was this: "The reason for our close tea trading partnership with (Kenya) is all down to the method of production most widely used there called CTC...More than 99% of African tea is harvested using the Cut, Tear and Curl method. This results in the end product being a very fine particle of tea which suits teabag manufacture perfectly..."

Also: "As tea drinkers we have a tendency in Britain to decide that a brew is ready for us to drink when a certain redness in colour is achieved. African tea suits the quick-fix culture in which most of us live now. It reaches the ideal hue much more speedily because of the soil conditions present during the growing process..."

Apparently the market in connoisseur teas from China and India will hold up, since "some of us are willing to pay extra and try a little harder to find a flavour we would truly value...but most of us are sticking to builders tea and doing ourselves a disservice by the way we make it...The optimum amount of time to release the full flavour and all the beneficial qualities from a bag of tea is 90 seconds. Yet we Brits, on average, leave our teabags in water for just 38 seconds."

Co-incidentally, at the time I received my mother's clipping, I had just started a print design job for a local Caribbean dance company and was getting into African batik prints, and had bought a great selection of remnants for a tenner in the local African textile shop in the high street. I was surprised to find that most of the fabric sold there was made in Holland. The shop-keeper told me that her customers preferred the Dutch cloth to the African because it was better quality and lasted longer and kept its colours after several washes.

Here is a snap of one of those prints, which has a little of the Willow about it (although the design is probably based on the palm tree):