'In so far as I have any conscious purpose, it is to show the beauty of natural objects which are normally thought uninteresting or even unattractive: such things as Brussels sprouts, turnips, onions, pebbles and flints, bulbs, dead leaves, bleached vertebrae, an old boot cast up by the tide. People sometimes tell me that they had never really ‘seen’ something before I painted it, and I should like to believe this… For myself, if I must put it into words, I try to look at quite simple things as though I were seeing them for the first time and as though no one had ever painted them before.' (Elliot Gould, The Studio Magazine, 1957)
I came across the artist Elliot Hodgkin (1905-1987) the other day and felt an instant affinity towards him and his work. When first viewing his detailed paintings of leaves and other ephemera I immediately sensed a deep understanding of his need to capture the detail of the otherwise overlooked. His paintings portray such a close examination of natural ephemera ,growth, decay and the cycle of life with such sensitivity. His portrayal of light is beautiful and the subtle detail is exquisite. I could almost have spoken the above words myself said by Gould in an interview with The Studio Magazine in 1957.
His catalogue of paintings is pretty extensive and with all, there appears to be such beautiful observation and realization. During the war he worked for the Home Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Information and also joined the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) but still managed to keep painting between 1940 and 1944. He was drawn to the contrast between the ruins of bomb sites around London and the vegetation that grew within and out of them producing paintings on the subject.
Starting off in oils, in later years he dedicated more of his time to painting in egg tempra after gaining a recipe for the medium from a friend. Beginning his work with detailed drawings of the work to be painted he would then trace the drawings onto primed hardboard.
Its not that often an artist makes such an impression on me but Hodgkins work has such a beautiful quality that I instantly fell in love with it.
In a letter written to Sir Brinsley Ford, Hodgkin wrote:
"I like to show the beauty of things that no one looks at twice."
The last couple of months has found me throwing myself back into a more considered exploration of this ever changing freezing process. Each making is hugely influenced by the ephemera sourced in the outdoor landscapes I inhabit. The seasons have always been a big influence on the work I produce and through careful regard of my surroundings it has always been important that the otherwise overlooked side of organic regeneration is represented; to reveal the unsuspecting beauty and fragility of growth and decay.
Careful observation of unintentional happenings, phenomena's and accidents while freezing and melting, drives more experimentation forward. Influenced by these material changes, intentional, intimate, intervention is applied in order to emphasise the formation of frost, ice, cracks, fissures and textures; the internal and external fabric of each piece. Their ephemeral individuality poses such a profound and unique existence that is only captured through photography. These pieces no longer exist in their physical form.
From a teardrop to currently a more spherical form, planetary and celestial aspects have been a theme that interests me and visually produces some fabulous results. As seen above plant roots, the first autumnal leaves of the season, blackcurrants and willowherb are just some of the materials used within these many pieces. These works will continue to develop and surprise.
The TCL Collective and I generated another chance to come together and exhibit. The venue was Horticap in Harrogate and with a theme of 'Water' we all produced and exhibited our own individual interpretations of the fluid stuff! A successful show with many sales and I was especially pleased to sell a few large pieces. Feedback from visitors has been insightful and informative. Hearing peoples own interpretation of my work has not only been a pleasure but has given me much food for thought and a chance to analyse the way my work is viewed. All this feedback influence how my work is developed and presented especially in order to sell.
I was also lucky enough to exhibit at Harlow Carr , Harrogate in their 'Photographic Exhibition' for a few weeks. No sales were made but the opportunity to show my work in these horticultural/garden based environment has been a great opportunity.
It was real pleasure to have been invited back to Leeds Arts University to exhibit my Ice Sculptures in the form of a 'live' experimental melt installation over the month of May. Due to its success it was extended over the BA final show into June.
Curator Catriona McAara chose to show the work as hanging pieces within a closed glass fronted cabinet. The work was originally exhibited in a more open pristine way and it has been a great insight observing its presentation as a piece with less intervention.
Replaced everyday the Ice Sculptures were hung and left to melt over the acrylic cubes. The majority of detritus was collected within these cubes and left to decompose with no real intervention. As the weeks progressed the build up of organic matter become stagnant as it decomposed. The build up of decay and rotting matter produced a distinctive odour which was only experienced when the glass doors to the cabinet were opened. This concept of containment has been an added outcome not previously envisaged and something of great interest to take forward.
The installation's direct association with 'Vanitas'; still life paintings from the 16th & 17th century which reminded the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life is clearly represented in the physical and real presence of these vulnerable ice forms.
With no reference to pristine unspoilt environments this installation has taken over its space through the splashes of dripping water and uncalculated collections of ephemeral matter such as leaves, grass, clay and charcoal accumulating outside of the cubes and on the walls and surfaces of the cabinet. These white surfaces offered a canvas in which to view the 'mark making' capabilities of organic materials; a concept of which was the starting point and driving force of this particular 'Ice' project.
It has been an odd experience handing over this work and not being able to observe the daily revealing through melt of the many sculptures made. Each piece of work reveals a different entity only briefly experienced before it thaws and not knowing how their contents were aesthetically immersed played on my mind. Logistically this has not been an easy installation to maintain but challenges are what inform and drive process and practice forward and I am never shy of a challenge. Producing this work on a larger scale is something I would like to work towards for the future.
A huge thank you to Doctor Catriona McAra and Mathew Weeldon for the opportunity and support in showing this work.
Its been a busy old month! A trip back over the water to Ireland, Kinvara with the rest of the TCL Collective (along with fellow creatives John & Sarah Gamble & Richard Dennis) to spend more time responding from the landscape and subsequent exhibition showing our work as a response was such a success. The response from the people of Kinvara and other visitors made through networking and social media was extremely positive with some fabulous feedback. It is always a great privilege for fellow artists and creatives to be inspired by my practice and the work i produce and to meet and chat to people.
Since finishing my MA it feels that i have constantly thought about how my work can be 'framed' to sell and how best to present to enable the formal viewing of work. Having a free week back in Ireland to generate experimental work with no restrictions or preconceived outcome was a breath of fresh air and gave me the head space to be creative and get back to showing my work in its true ephemeral form. I realised how much i had missed this.
Being back in this part of Ireland gave chance for reflection and opportunity to live if only for a few days, in such a thoughtful and respectful community. The connection between the people of Kinvara is such a contrast to the fleeting and judgemental everyday life i live back home. Nothing is a bother for these Irish folk and they are always happy to oblige and interested in who you are and why you have come to the Emerald Isle. With no hidden agenda they are just happy to learn more and and chew the fat. Here back at home the hackles and cautiousness is back in place and interaction is refrained and stilted .
I was particularly drawn to the cracks and fissures on the limestone plateaus of the Muprooghtoohg coastline. A large piece of limestone was smashed to the ground to create fragments with sharp edges. Utilising the abrasive nature of the stones edges and decaying shells collected from Tracht Beach particles were created by connecting the two in a dragging and scraping action.
The ice project has been moving forward into a different phase. The concept of tactility, touch and physical presence are key aspects that drive my practice and a big influence on present developments. This month the need for a representation of 'physical' presence has inspired me to include a hint of myself in live ongoing photography and film. This move is to accentuate the juxtaposition of a physical materiality and ourselves/humanities presence. Through my work the concept of a society driven by a submissive and insatiable need to be consumed by non physical use of digital communication drives process. I believe without physical contact we do not truly belong. Digital media is a fickle tool; unless we are constant in putting ourselves 'out there' our presence is easily forgotten. Face to face physical, tactile exchange generates a connection that is not easily forgotten. We experience and remember that person with a genuine authenticity which remains with us.
By appropriating the elements and physical elemental process; being tactile and hands on with experimentation and exploration i remain connected to something that is in a transient state, organic, from the land and therefore living. I am connected and attached to the living; something that is real and true.
Working with these materials their state of fragility generates tensions. These heightened tensions are what makes working with the ephemeral an exciting challenge for me; singeing but not burning, freezing but not melting; timing and instinctive restraint are key to the realizing of finished work and pieces. However, many accidents happen along the way and it these 'mistakes' that generate further learning, discovery and developing process.
The fragility of frozen water and the effortless way it melts and changes back into its original state once brought to room temperature is something that when in contact with the body/hand i wish to explore further; the warmth of a living body its reaction when in contact with ice, the connection between the two.
April appears to be a busy month ahead with another immersive and responsive trip to Kinvara, Ireland and live installation of melting ice sculpture at Leeds Arts University, as they say, there's no rest for the wicked!!!
As another early month of 2018 comes to a close, a challenging one for one reason or another, I sit typing in anticipation of the longer and warmer days and the freedom they bring. Settling down post MA is difficult and the need to give more time to my creativity is strong. Keeping everyday activities that enable the necessities in life (like a roof over my head and food in the fridge!) have to continue in order for me to sustain my practice. The progression of practice fits around the everyday grasping moments in order to concentrate on further development. The mutual support of my fellow TCL Collective helps to keep me focused and driven.
It is ironic that the 'grasping' of moments that reflect the everyday and constant barrage of 'things to do' in this digitally driven, non physical society is one of the core aspects I challenge through my work. The lack of physical connection and our insatiable reliance on digital communication pushes us evermore into a transient and fast paced existence. More than ever society appears to becoming immune to the real; real emotion, real palpable expression and the experience of 'real' life; the good as well as the bad. Nothing is perfect the reality is sometimes not always nice but we as human beings have to experience the good against the bad to become healthy in our existence. We pass through briefly with great ease but never really stop to take time and listen to each other and ourselves. Such fickleness and irresponsibility exists that I wonder how honesty and truth will ever survive.
'We created the machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills and now it compels us to worship it.'
E M Forster, 'The Machine Stops' 1928
Through my work and connection with the ephemeral and harnessing of elemental process it is hoped I can visualize how nature at least, remains honest and true.
The Ice Sculpture project goes from strength to strength with a recent focus on shorter freezing times and the recording of their melt through time lapse video. I have had some really positive results with excellent feedback and plan to continue exploring this process further to collate a bank of videos (see Vimeo feed on Home page) that could possibly be exhibited.
I will be exhibiting as part of the 'Curators Choice' back at Leeds Arts University in April where live ice sculptures will be exhibited alongside time-lapse video and various other works.
A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures
The term originally comes from the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’
Vanitas are closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life (memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles. However vanitas still-lifes also include other symbols such as musical instruments, wine and books to remind us explicitly of the vanity (in the sense of worthlessness) of worldly pleasures and goods.
It is always fabulous to read how someone (especially with notoriety) perceives your work. The recent referencing to 'Vanitas' a genre associated with the still life paintings of Flanders & Netherlandish art of the 16th & 17th century has given me the opportunity to view my work from a different perspective.
'Vanitas' meaning 'futility' or 'worthlessness' reminds us of the pointlessness of earthly goods and how the transience of life foresees the inevitability of death. These paintings focus on decay and the distinguishing of life through symbolic representation; the snuffed candle, the rotting fruit, a skull visualize and capture the inevitability of death and the deterioration of physical presence.
The process of ephemeral decay is initially what drives my practice. My work at present with individual sculptural ice pieces melt, break down, rot and deteriorate. They can at times be visually dark and sinister due to the nature of the organic materials used within them. Recent experimental ways of photographing within a dark space is also in a similar vein to the unsettling and mysterious Vanitas paintings of the16th & 17th century.
Within their frame the Vanitas paintings contain the grouping of rotting or a representation of, perished life, as a still life. The paintings show a moment in time of degeneration. The ice sculptures are also placed within a 'frame' through photography; recording a moment in their dissolve. By isolating these pieces of work within an indoor space away from their origin of the outdoor environment their organicness is emphasized. We are forced to look in more detail at 'moments in time' within these frames. The point of decay and disintegration are captured in order for us to reflect and take perspective of our own existence.
It is a curious and strange experience to work with an ephemeral piece so closely and in such detail; record its beauty and presence, have many images that prove its existence but for it to no longer exist!
Here one minute gone the next, out of sight out of mind, gone but not forgotten, transience, life's cycle, regeneration,
I know the ice sculptures were real because I physically engaged with them; I made them. I touched them and worked with the pieces as they melted and faded away.
January has found me busy with more practice research and creating more work and gaining further insight into my #iceform project. This project is far from over and each session of making and experimentation throws out new ways of harnessing elemental and material processes. The work is extremely photogenic and the #iceform aesthetics and visual appearance have started to make impact. Having sold prints of various pieces of work through exhibiting and my online presence I plan to generate more selective prints and have them to purchase on my website. (see my shop).
My work has been recognised by Doctor Catriona McAra, the curator of Leeds Arts University, and a selection of prints will be exhibited in the Board Room of the University during February www.leeds-art.ac.uk/news-events/events-exhibitions/carol-sowden-elemental-harnessing/ This is a real honour and I am especially pleased that some of the work will be hung in such an important space.
The weather has had a big influence on my work. The short dark days of winter has led me to photographing work in a dark space highlighting the forms with LED lighting. This has created some beautifully sensitive and provocative work.
The onslaught of the winter weather has also given me a small opportunity to photograph the iceforms in the snow. The window of opportunity is very short; as soon as it snows it has invariably disappeared over a few hours.
I have also become more interested in the timings of freezing, the shorter the time within a frozen environment the more fragile and delicate the work is. Visually frost marks and fissures create the most beautiful structures but remain for such a short period, they are fragile and delicate to hold and touch in my hands and I love the tension of physicality this presents to me. The challenge to place within an area for photographing and the need to photograph before the form melts focuses me. I work with speed so I am able to get shots taken before the piece melts!
A few days off over Christmas has given me chance to get re-energized and ready for the New Year ahead. 2017 was such an exciting and successful creative year it has fuelled the need to push things forward.
The 'Ice Form' project is going from strength to strength and has much more to develop and investigate. Recent sales of photographic prints of work and feedback through exhibiting & social media has been extremely encouraging. There is much more to experiment. Todays snowfall coupled with a day at home in the studio has made for a productive day in terms of producing work. Ideas for further development of this beautiful and captivating freezing process present themselves on a daily basis.
I will work through these inspired moments methodically and with tactility;
ensuring it is elemental process combined with the use of organic matter that brings about aesthetic sensitivity.
I have been lucky enough to have been invited back to Leeds Arts University as part of the Curators Choice in the first half of 2018. Showing aspects of the 'Ice Form' project presents many more challenges for me to tackle (of which I am thriving on!) as well as the opportunity to show the further development of the project.
With a planned trip back to Kinvara in April and future projects with the TCL Art Collective I think the year is going to start off pretty busy!