TRACES – what’s behind the title of our forthcoming exhibition?

One of the indicators that I have the right exhibiting partner for the forthcoming Traces exhibition is that Leah Higgins and I  alighted upon the title without any angst or undue deliberation. I think the knack of picking a title is to be specific enough that you have something of interest to sell whilst leaving it vague enough to allow space for your thoughts and interpretation to morph during the preparation period! It needs to link to the existing work you submit with your proposal and be exciting enough to you to inspire to you to create something new, to take you in a slightly new direction.

Paper dolls – initial design work for Traces Exhibition

Traces is an exhibition that will be shown in the World of Glass which is a fabulous gallery and museum complex right in my home town. When Leah and I decided ( rather optimistically, we thought) to put in pitch for the large gallery, most often used for group shows, we examined the past prospectus and decided that emphasising my local links and looking to link the subject matter of the work to St.Helens would help. As we have been given Gallery One from mid-March 2018, I guess it certainly didn’t do any harm!

Leah and I are taking two different but complimentary directions with our art but each of us is interpreting the word Traces in three ways:

I am going to trace my family history and look at some of the experiences of my ancestors who lived, worked in and went to war from St.Helens. Part of that is remembering my childhood and what I remember of those adults. The challenge will be in finding a way to represent historical events in the rather modern and abstract way in which I naturally work. Graffiti  as we know it was not even invented when some of the events I am going to depict took place!

Secondly, thinking of my Grandmother and one of her favourite admonishments to us as children  to not play down an isolated path known as Red Rocks, “or the bogey man will get you!”, led me to thinking how I might literally leave traces of the local environment on my art. The soil in Red Rocks is that colour because of iron oxide deposits which I reckon can be used as dye. Her son, my Uncle Barry, used to work as a blacksmith before he emigrated as a young adult and I live near the Old Smithy Museum. I am in negotiations with the board to see if I can borrow some of their rusted artefacts to mark fabric with. Not that I’ve ever done that type of surface design before, but hey, learning is fun! Of course, I am figuring that graffiti is itself a trace of the local community and so I have a small comfort zone I can retreat to!

Graffiti underpass
Initial research for Traces took me to the Graffiti Underpass in Newton -le-Willows.

Thirdly, I am going to indulge my passion for helping others understand the creative process in an unusual way. Each piece of art will be accompanied by information (itself presented as a finished art work)  that allows the viewer to trace my thought processes and the steps I went through to make the art. I want to use social media as I go to enable readers all over the world to trace my preparation and progress. You can see how to follow me in this last blog post here.

Leah, on the other hand has been able to indulge her exiting passion and talent for using industrial landscape in her work. St.Helens was built on collieries and glass factories, most of which have now gone and Leah will be tracing the impact of this industrial heritage on the landscape. For this exhibition she will explore three areas. Contemporary, working structures that divide the landscape into crisp lines and shapes. Abandoned older structures that, through a process of decay, are slowly reclaimed by nature. And those iconic structures which now only exist in our memory. It’s a theme which really suits her signature breakdown printing techniques. It also links nicely to my work as she will be using shapes from the mines and industries my father and grandfather worked in.

Pilkingtons factory, St.Helens

The gallery is large and open to innovative display methods and both 2 and 3 D work, so we are looking forward to a lot of play, discovery and the opportunity to make work intended both for sale and exhibition.  Inevitably as we go along we will find that ideas we had in our mind now don’t work, that new concepts spring from nowhere to join the party. We will have joyous and timeless moments when we are in the flow of creation and occasions when we are only too conscious of time and the need to commit to our studios and organise ourselves efficiently. (That’s not least because we are also preparing for a different show called Fragments … I’ll tell you about that in the next blog post!)

Which ever of those moods we might be in we hope that you will follow along and walk with us as we tell the story of how Traces comes into being.


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