It is the season for chips. No, not the type that comes from a deep fat fryer, but the chips on my windscreen. August in this country is the ‘top dressing season’ on our roads. In any journey you are likely to come across diversions as tar and chips are poured onto the surface. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if any of this did anything to improve the roads surface. It does not. Within hours the only evidence that this utterly pointless endeavour took place are chips in the gutter on their way to blocking the drains, chips in the centre of the road and the chips in my windscreen. When I pull into the supermarket car park a large space is reserved Chips-Away or some such repair franchise. It is then that I ask myself, given that we all know that ‘top dressing’ is utterly useless in improving the roads surface that I consider whether they are in cahoots; I wonder whether the Department of Highway Maintenance is in some way linked to Chips-Away et al.
Fusion: artists becoming writers, writers becoming artists – did it all start with Horace?
When George Szirtes opened Voicing Visions, the Norwich Twenty Group spring exhibition of 2009, a collaborative exhibition where poets and writers responded to the groups’ artwork, George referred to the Roman poet, Horace, who said that a poem was like a picture. In his introduction George went on to say that they are still regarded as sister arts. Invited by the printmaker, Derek Rae, I was one of the writers responding to prints concerning his Uncle Harold’s letters home from the Somme and a family memoir. It was a humbling experience, reaching back through history in an attempt to both reflect Derek’s work and Harold’s experience. A review of that exhibition by Adrian Green of the Open University in The Poetry Society stated, ‘…the poems are far from being merely illustrations or verbal versions of the pre-existing artwork…this project should serve to inspire collaboration between creative artists (writers, musician and visual artists) in other areas.’ And indeed it could. Some of the poets responded directly to the image in front of them and used their impressions and senses to explore the artwork through words. I used an episcopal form, quoting directly from Uncle Harold’s letters home.
Ekpharsis is the literary description for commentary on a visual work of art. In my creative writing workshops, handing out postcards to stimulate a written creative response works well, if students are blocked, lacking inspiration or nervous or new to writing and too self-conscious to read out work solely from their own imagination. Better yet, is producing an object that students can handle, exploring the surface, coolness or warmth of touch.
None of which quite explains why a growing number of artists and designers of my acquaintance have, in later life, turned to writing. Writers are often asked when they first began writing. Artists are rarely asked when they first began making pictures. The assumption being that this was an innate talent the simply grew from finger painting as a child. So why this fusion? Why do artists write? For me writing is satisfyingly complex. It takes a lot of time structuring and planning and sheer physical tap-tapping away to create convincing characters and a strong narrative. It provides another world for me to inhabit. It is, perhaps, a deeper creative pool.
I asked an artist/writer friend and her thoughts. Amanda Addison artist and author states: ‘I did a joint graphics/illustration degree at Chelsea School of Art. It was a very free course and many of my illustrations used textile processes. I made few artists books for my final show, these included illustrations, writing and materials which seemed right for the theme - such as blue silk to cover a book of sea poems/illustrations. In 2003 I applied for a place on the MA Writing the Visual at NUCA as I knew I wanted to write more than the little snippets I'd done until then.’ I asked Amanda how her writing life differed from her visual arts life. ‘When I'm in the flow, 'the zone' I really can't cope with interruptions, whereas it isn't so bad if I'm making an artwork. Much of my artwork, such as painting en plein air is very quick and spontaneous, whereas although my first draft is also done like that, it needs several re-edits to get it into shape.’ I asked Amanda if, looking back, she found that she have always written, be it a journal or a story written in childhood. ‘No. But I've always travelled with a sketchbook recording my travels (and still do).’ I asked whether writing had taken over from her visual art work and what she got from the two different disciplines. ‘At the moment yes. But who know what the future may hold. My painting and textile work gives me an immediate buzz; the writing is more for the long haul.’
When I asked if they merge Amanda said: ‘Yes, both in my practise and outcomes. What I mean is I have made some artworks which are a crossover, such as a sail poem (made entirely from fabric) for the Our Writing Worlds Festival and Dressing the Hall, a textile/word installation for Bergh Apton Sculpture trail. http://www.amandaaddison.com/awards--commissions.html Also, my writing is often about visual art. Such as Laura's Handmade Life includes textile history and the struggles within the creative process. I'm currently working on an art/craft mystery set around a Cornish art school.’ Amanda continues to share a passion for both disciplines, she considers writing ‘…enables her to deal with a ‘bigger picture’ and larger themes from more than one point of view.’
For me art remains very much part of my working practice, but in recent years lack of a studio has held me back, this is something that I hope to change in the coming months. I agree with Amanda, writing also enables me to deal with a broader canvas, the themes are more complex and multi-layered and I revel in their complexity; it absorbs my whole being and I become obsessive, focused and unreachable when I tackle a novel. I enjoy physically shaping my novel; it is as if I can see and hold the arch of the narrative as if it is a tangible form.
Dave Clarke friend, photographer and kind-hearted man, died on the 9th July after a short illness. A wake is planned both in Falmouth and the Railway Tavern.
To write a message here is the link to his memorial page http://www.facebook.com/groups/133949180078698