It is my third week at the Museum, and it has been a busy one before I leave on the 17th of October. This week I visited the Museum Collections Centre in Duddeston, home to all the objects not currently on site at Museums across Birmingham, I ran a ‘Big Print’ workshop on the 4th of October in my studio as one of many activities taking place within the Museum as part of Fun Palaces, and I have been working on my ideas for the Final work.
During my time at the Museum I have been carrying out research into pieces held at the Museum to generate a new piece of work in response to what I have seen. Taking inspiration from artists such as Hans Sebald Beham and Helen Chadwick who have used a circular shape within their work, I have been playing with this circular form as a basis to my work. When looking at these artists I became aware of the effect the circular form had on me as a viewer, the shape draws your attention into the image having associations with an old fashioned peep hole of which to view others through.
Here is a piece I am working on that incorporates this circular frame:
I have been playing with the use of coiled newsprint paper to form a circular surface on which to screen print upon, I am interested in the distortion of imagery to create a closer inspection from the viewer. During my residency I have seen many images that observe women carrying out certain actions from bathing to changing to sleeping, all private and quite intimate acts however, they are on display for us to observe. It is the subject of women and their image which I think I will focus on as the basis to my piece.
I wanted to learn more about how other artists have used photography within their work to stage certain acts and how they use technology to distort the images they work with. Two artists that do this are Mohammed Bourouissa and Semyon Faibisovich, artists who have pieces held at the Museum Collections Centre (MCC). It was a great opportunity to view the pieces in person and see the techniques used by the artists.
Semyon Faibisovich’s images examine contemporary urban life in his home town of Moscow and particularly the lives of those at the bottom of the social ladder. Using a mobile phone, Faibisovich takes photographs of people on the streets and uses these low resolution images to make his oil paintings, enlarging the images to life size and then painting over the image creating pixelated distortions. This was clear when up close to the works entitled Repose, from At the Stop series, 2009 and Sick on the Way?, 2008 from the same series.
Mohammed Bourouissa is an Algerian photographer who uses staged photography to create images that appear real, often depicting moments of physical or emotional tension through the careful arrangement of people and their gestures. They leave you questioning what has happened in the image or what will happen, I like the suspense he creates leaving you wanting more. I saw La rencontre (The Meeting) and Le toit (The Roof), 2005-2007 during my visit to the MCC and both looked at this tension between the characters depicted.
After viewing these specific pieces I spent the rest of my time exploring the vast number of objects and works stored within the centre, it is very easy to get carried away! These are just some of the things I came across:
The Museum Collections Centre (MCC) has a huge natural history collection, with examples of taxidermy ranging from delicate butterflies to a brown bear! Although not relevant to my practical work it was fascinating to see such an array of animals dating back from the 1800’s.
The MCC holds open afternoons for the public on the last Friday of every month and are open for pre-arranged tours and study days, for more information or to make a booking visit: www.bmag.org.uk/Museum-collections-centre.
Finally, thank you to everyone who came to ‘The Big Print’ drop in session to have a taster of what you can achieve through printmaking. From 11-4pm the studio was full of people experimenting with polystyrene prints and mono printing, some fantastic work was made which people could take home or add to the ‘Big Print’ wall in my studio to remain till the end of my residency.
Next week will be my final as artist in residence at BMAG, it has gone so quickly! I am keen to hold one last printing workshop, this time with adults, taking place on Friday the 17th of October between 12.30-2.30pm. We will be making bookmarks inspired by Edward Burne-Jones intricate woodblock patterns I came across in the collections using a Lino print.
Here is one of Edward Burne-Jones’s designs in the collection originally made for the boarder of a book to get you started:
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
150 years ago today the Sultanganj Buddha, one of the most important objects in Birmingham’s collection, was offered to the Corporation of Birmingham. On 7 October 1864 Samuel Thornton, a former mayor of the city, wrote to Birmingham Borough Council offering:
“…the colossal figure of Buddha, and the large marble one, to the town, to be placed in the Art Museum, now being erected, where they may be duly and properly located for the free inspection of the inhabitants of Birmingham…”
Samuel Thornton’s main business was as a railway ironmonger but he also had an interest in ancient India. Following its discovery by engineers constructing the Indian Railway in 1861, he paid £200 to have the two-metre tall copper Buddha transported to England.
In 1867 the Buddha went on display in the ‘Corporation Art Gallery,’ a room in the Central library. In 1885 it went on display in the newly built Museum and Art Gallery. Today the statue is displayed in the Buddha Gallery. Offerings of flowers are frequently left at the feet of the statue by Buddhist visitors. To commemorate the 150th anniversary, the statue will be blessed by monks from the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara at a public ceremony on Wednesday 8 October between 11am and 1pm.
Curator of World Cultures
It is coming to the end of my second week here at the Museum and half way through my residency. I have managed to do and see a great deal inside and outside the studio, I’m really enjoying the fast pace of being right in the midst of the gallery meeting visitors, viewing new pieces and trying new things.
On Saturday the 27th September I ran a print making session with the Art class held at the Museum, for children aged 6-11. It was great to show the children all the exciting possibilities of print and see them enjoying the processes, making great finished pieces. We tried three techniques, mono print, a type of Lino print using polystyrene tiles instead of thick Lino and Foilography. Here are some examples of both the children’s and the parent’s pieces who seemed to enjoy it too!
For the second time I visited the print and drawing collections held at the Museum with Fine Art curator Victoria Osbourne. On this occasion I asked to view pieces that focused on the act of observing, I tried to narrow my research upon certain pieces that document an act or tell a particular narrative. I also wanted to look at examples of printing techniques used by artists and how different print methods produce differing images.
I saw a variety of works by Frederick Sandys who was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter, illustrator and draughtsman (1829-1904). Within the collection there are a few of his wood engravings that depict people watching over others. I love his piece entitled The Sailor’s Bride, the image was originally created to illustrate a poem by Marian James. The piece depicts a grieving man who turns up too late, arriving once his beloved has passed away.
Victoria showed me the uncut wood block with Sandys drawing upon, once Sandys had drawn his design onto the block he would give it to W.H Hooper to engrave. It was unusual to see the block as an object itself and gain a sense of how the process works.
This is another of Frederick Sandys wood engravings called Sleep (1863), the tender gaze between the two characters intensifies the melancholic tone of the image which again focuses on death.
These prints are by Edward Burne-Jones, they are wood engravings and tell the story of Psyche and Cupid. The myth tells of the tasks Psyche had to pass so she could be with her true love Cupid. The images are less detailed compared with Sandy’s engravings but I like the use of bold lines that suggest depth and movement.
Finally, one of my favourite prints within the collection is a drypoint etching called Changing by Laura Knight (1926). The subject matter of a woman being observed changing relates to my own interests in documenting those unaware they are being watched, the very personal act of undressing is captured beautifully through the etching process.
In response to this piece I have experimented with creating my own screen prints focussing on the act of undressing.
Next week I am visiting the Museum and Collections Centre with Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Lisa Beauchamp, I will be looking at staged photographical works by Mohamed Bourouissa and paintings by Semyon Faibisovich. Both artists create works that observe the general public using new technologies to capture these characters and situations that unfold.
Come and take a closer look at my work on Wednesday afternoons in my studio, situated in the activity zone, between 1pm – 3pm. Feel free to pop in and ask me about what I am researching or working on as I am keen to talk to visitors to hear their opinions on voyeurism and the act of looking when in the gallery.
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
It’s been a busy first week as Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I’ve been moving into my studio, viewing the collections and meeting many members of staff and visitors. My studio is situated in the activity zone on level two, the space itself really suits my practice of observing others although, with the large glass wall I can now be easily observed too sometimes feeling like an artwork myself.
For the next four weeks I am going to be researching, gathering images and experimenting with ideas to make a new piece of work inspired by the collections held at the Museum. I have already had the chance to engage with the vast collection of prints, drawings and paintings held at the Museum and can’t wait for another visit.
My work focuses on the act looking, I like to make pieces that question the viewers participation in this act of observing others becoming aware of our own nosiness when it comes to viewing what people are doing. I stage photographs of people within interior spaces carrying out their everyday actions and turn these into screen prints upon sculptural steel structures that playfully distort the image further making the viewer work to see what is happening.
During the residency I am keen to look at how people interact with the artwork on display as well as each other within the gallery and how they engage in the act of looking. I have been working with some images taken from inside my studio of visitors as they walk or sit outside the glass wall. Here are two quick pieces (see images above) combining digital prints, ink and pencil, can you see the figures?
The images are formed of many horizontal lines similar to contemporary printmaker Christiane Baumgartner’s woodcuts entitled Asphalt 1 and 2, which are currently held in the Museum’s collection. I went to see these pieces with Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Lisa Beauchamp, it was great to get up close to see the time consuming technique which Baumgartner uses to capture quite mundane landscapes.
I have a keen interest in printmaking of all kinds always wanting to learn more and try out new things, this week I have visited the huge print and drawing collection at the Museum with curator of Fine Art Victoria Osbourne. One of the pieces in the collection that struck me was a wood cut by Hans Sebald Beham entitled The Woman’s Bath (1530). The piece shows the private act of women bathing being captured by the artist for the viewer to enjoy, what I liked was the circular shape of the print which makes you want to look closer drawing in your attention.
Next week I will be spending more time researching drawings from the collection that have a narrative, I am interested in those moments where an event between people has been captured by the artist, leaving the viewer to guess what has happened or possibly what will happen next.
My studio is open to the public every Wednesday 1-3pm, feel free to pop in and see what I have been up to. This will also be posted on the blog at the end of every week.
On the 4th of October I will be holding a free print workshop called ‘The Big Print’ between 11am-1pm and 2-4pm. This is part of Fun Palaces, a scheme of cultural events for all to join in across Birmingham – participating venues include the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the REP and The Pen Museum. We will be trying a variety of prints that you can take away on the day, open for all ages. More information can be found on the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery website: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3422
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
In 1596 William Shakespeare began to write his tragedy Romeo & Juliet, inspired by a narrative poem which had been popular while the Bard was still a boy in Stratford upon Avon. In nearby Birmingham a remarkably similar tale was being lived out between two prominent families: the Smalbrokes and the Colmores.
The problems between the Capulets and the Montagues were, in the original story, based merely upon mutual envy. Shakespeare escalated the grudge into a full-scale feud, which mirrored the running battles and hatred which divided the townsfolk of sixteenth century Birmingham into two camps – those who supported William Colmore and his sons, and those who favoured the brothers Richard and Thomas Smalbroke.
The origins of the feud concerned libel actions; accusations of usury and nepotism; disputes over wills and even a disputed marriage settlement: Thomas Smalbroke’s wife Elizabeth was the sister of William Colmore and of Ambrose Colmore who was a joint defendant against a charge of embezzlement brought by his brother against him and Richard Smalbroke.
A complicated web of suspicion and lies which led eventually to the Court of Star Chamber – the highest in the land – and even to an armed stand-off at Blakesley Hall in Yardley.
Blakesley Hall is the house which Richard Smalbroke built in 1590 on land which he had inherited from his father. Richard divided his time between his main residence The Ravenhurst at Bordesley and Blakesley Hall which was also the matrimonial home of Richard’s only son Robert.
On 1st July 1604, at Bordesley Thomas Smalbroke was attacked with a hunting staff by William Colmore’s son Thomas. Colmore then tried, unsuccessfully, to shoot his enemy who ran for safety to the house.
When Thomas Smalbroke rode to Packington for a warrant for the arrest of his attacker, Colmores waited to intercept him on his return along the Coventry Road. Richard got to him first and the pair made it to Yardley. Later that evening Thomas set off again for his home at the top of the Bull Ring but was met by one of his sons who told him to go back to Yardley where the brothers watched from the top floor window of Blakesley Hall as young Colmore and his servant, both armed with pistols, sought a Smalbroke to shoot.
The town was not safe for any of the Smalbrokes that night. William Colmore was ‘most irreligiously and profanely swearing and protesting many times by the blood of God that he would his son had well boxed Smalbroke’ – that he ‘would to God he had sped him’.
Thomas Smalbroke told the Town Constable to arrest Thomas Colmore, but it was only by the intervention of Sir Thomas Holte of Aston that the writ was finally served.
Also sheltering in the house at the time of the siege were Richard’s son and daughter-in-law and their eight-year old daughter Barbara who would, two years later, inherit Blakesley Hall and all its lands on the death of her father. Her mother Elizabeth would then re-marry. Her new husband was that same Thomas Colmore! Had he and Elizabeth known each other before she married Robert? Had he been waiting in the wings for a second chance to claim his bride and were they the real-life star-crossed lovers with an altogether different ending. Who was the true target for the Colmores on that July evening in 1604?
A final twist to this saga. In 1614 Richard’s granddaughter Barbara married Henry Devereux of Castle Bromwich Hall. Her new mother-in-law, Lady Devereux, was formerly Catherine Arden – a kinswoman of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden whose family seat was Park Hall, Castle Bromwich. Did William Shakespeare get all of his inspiration for his play from that poem? Or did his mother tell him about the goings-on in Birmingham?
As one of Blakesley Hall’s team of visitor-friendly volunteers, I hope that the embellishments to the above true record of sixteenth-century events sound plausible enough to claim, if not a possible Shakespeare connection, then at least a parallel with one of his most loved plays. Yardley may not be a substitute for Verona, but beautiful Blakesley Hall, in old age, remains inspirational.
The plot thickens! Since writing this blog post I have found out that Robert Smalbroke died from natural causes in 1603, so it seems that Thomas Colmore’s errand to Blakesley in 1604 was not to murder him but a failed attempt to elope with his widow.
Volunteer at Blakesley Hall
Matthew Boulton was a founding member of the Lunar Society. The group were made up of 14 members who would meet once a month during a full moon. These meetings would often take place at Boulton’s home, Soho House, in the dining room, now known as The Lunar Room. The group was comprised of some of the greatest minds of the period and contributed to scientific understanding.
The other founding member was Doctor Erasmus Darwin. Physician, botanist, zoologist and grandfather of Charles Darwin. An enormous man in both personality and stature, Darwin had an enormous appetite for ‘natural philosophy’ and scientific discovery. In his most famous work ‘Zoonomia’ Darwin anticipated natural selection. He is also credited with inventing a steering device for his carriage that would be adopted for cars more than 130 years later.
Like Darwin, Boulton was also fascinated by the beauty that occurred in the natural world and kept a fossilry at Soho House. This room has specially commissioned cabinets which hold forty specimens drawers for Boulton’s vast collection of fossils and minerals.
Other members of the Lunar society included Josiah Wedgewood, best known for his beautiful pottery and skill as a chemist; Joseph Priestley who discovered several ‘airs’ including oxygen and invented soda water; James Watt, Boulton’s business partner at Soho and engineer who improved the efficiency of the steam engine.
The collection at Soho House reflects the interests and contributions Boulton and the Lunar Society made to 18th century Britain.
The collection at Soho also includes several time pieces. The pendulum clock was invented in 1656, only a century before Soho House was built. The longcase clock (also known as the grandfather clock) was first created to house the pendulum and works by the English clockmaker William Clement in 1670 or 1671.
The most famous clock in the collection is the Ormolu Clock. A popular style in France, ormolu is the process of grinding gold, mixing it with mercury and gilding it to bronze and other metals at high temperature. There are two ormolu time pieces at Soho, the most famous being the Sidereal Clock in the Drawing Room. Sidereal time uses the position of a star to measure the days, hours and minutes. The star will be found in nearly the same location on another night at the same sidereal time. However, unlike solar time which relies upon the sun, sidereal is much more exact. A sidereal day is about 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.0916 seconds. It does not account for longer days depending on the earths position, nor leap years. The exactness of sidereal time is most probably is reason it never gained in popularity.
As well as treasures from the land, Boulton looked to the skies for answers to the world around him. Astronomy and meteorology were two of his passions. The earliest recorded working telescopes were the refracting telescopes developed by Lippershey, Janssen and Metius in 1608 in the Netherlands and soon after improved by Galileo.
Originally Boulton intended to have an observatory built in the grounds of Soho House, but for what ever reason this was never fully realised. He did however have a telescope positioned on the roof of the house. He was so obsessed with keeping weather records that when away on business his daughter Anne would observe changes for him. In his twilight years he still insisted on viewing the stars from the roof, even on bitterly cold nights.
The land around Soho House was slowly sold acre at a time by Bouton’s grandson. A inner city built up area today, the views enjoyed by Boulton in the 18th century would have been very rural. You can experience a taste of this on the Heritage Open Weekend (13th and 14th of September) when we will be offering free rooftop tours.
We will also be celebrating the achievements and inventions of the Lunar Society on 6th September with a free family event ‘Crazy Science‘.
For more information on all upcoming events at Soho House visit: www.bmag.org.uk/events
Visitor Services Assistant,
Donald Rodney (1961-1998) has been described as “fascinated by the way things live and rot”, which is reflected in the use of milk and copper coins in his sculpture ‘Land of Milk and Honey II’, currently on display in Birmingham Museums, Waterhall Gallery.
Born in Birmingham in 1961, Rodney was one of 12 children born into a Jamaican family. His family lived on Marshall Street in Smethwick, which became the centre of controversy when white residents gained council support to bar black families from moving into the street. Rodney spent most of his childhood in and out of hospital with sickle cell anaemia. Whilst hospitalised he would spend his time producing countless sketchbooks, which became his own tool for voicing his pain and to record his views on black identity and racism in the UK.
Rodney completed a pre-degree course at Bourneville School of Art and then studied art in Nottingham where he met fellow student Keith Piper. In the early 1980s Piper and Rodney formed part of an artist led group called the Blk Art Group. The artists in this group made thought-provoking work which responded to the crises of race relations in the UK and Overseas.
‘Land of Milk and Honey II’ was created as part of Donald Rodney’s final exhibition ‘9 Night in Eldorado’ held at the South London Gallery in 1997. The exhibition was a eulogy to the memory of his father who had died three years earlier. The sculpture consists of a vertical glass vitrine, filled with milk and copper coins. These materials have reacted with each other and shifted over time to create a striking range of colour, texture and pattern – a continual process which will alter its appearance. At the moment its possible to see how the coins have shifted downwards leaving varying shades of vibrant green.
The artwork is a metaphorical piece relating to the move of Caribbean people to the UK in the mid 20th century, including the artist’s father. The title of Rodney’s sculpture evokes the mythical ‘land of milk and honey’ that his father believed he would find when he travelled to Britain in the 1950s. The subsequent souring of hopes is shown through the inclusion of milk and copper coins. The use of these materials represents the artists own exploration of fragility in relation to his illness of Sickle Cell Anaemia and for what he saw as the diseased nature of modern British society and the treatment of the black community. Themes of fragility, sickness and decay recur in Rodney’s work and other artworks by him include X-Rays of his cells to tiny sculptures made from skin.
Land of Milk and Honey II has been acquired through the Contemporary Art Society. It is on display as part of STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered at Birmingham Museums’ Waterhall gallery, situated on Edmund Street. The display is on until December 31st 2014.