Sophie Thomas & Louis Thompson
THE SEVEN STAGES OF DEGRADATION
This sculpture is produced as a collaboration between designer Sophie Thomas and a glass artist Louis Thompson. Seen at the RA summer exhibition this year.
It is made using shards of plastic collected from beaches around the world by Thomas and hand blown glass by Thompson.
Some shards of plastic are gathered into the hot glass in the initial stages of making as the first gathers of molten glass are collected onto the punty iron. Coloured glass and plastic are gathered together to form the internal illusion of the plastic bottles found on beaches as they gradually become more and more degraded. The external gather of clear glass then forms the bottle shape which has then been dramatically deformed using a wooden paddle whist the glass was still molten.
The bottles at first seemed completely convincing as plastic bottles but on closer inspection the quality of the glass is present. A clearer and more crystal quality that called for a second look. They are the size of large 1litre plastic bottles that might have contained a fizzy drink or washing up liquid. They have no labels but have found plastic lids which suggest the contents of the bottles through the function of the lid. Each bottle seemed filled with bubbles which were produced when the plastic and the hot glass mixed, this gave an appearance of worn and battered plastic as if it had been in the sea a long time.
As these bottles are made of glass they would be unnaturally heavy compared to the weight of a plastic bottle. They appear to have no internal void but are solid like a glass paper weight. The coloured glass and plastic shards forming the suggestion of the swirling internal contents.
They were displayed within a glass box suggesting they could be under water. The surface of the bottle being shiny and glass like enhanced this suggestion. Though the contents and collapsed structure of the bottle suggests the degradation caused by the motion of being tossed in the sea and scrapped back and forth on the beach, the glassy outer surface suggests wetness. The more degraded the bottles appear to be the duller the colours used. Browns suggest that the contents are perhaps still within the bottle and have in some way soured or been mixed with mud or sand.
The white plinth on which they stand is well below eye level so the viewer is encouraged to crouch down low to observe them. This changes how the viewer is interacting and makes an active connection with the objects and the viewer through an action required to aid viewing. They could be viewed from above or by crouching, seen from the side. The plinth was on a polished wooden floor. They were viewed in a room full of a large number of other objects and people.
It might be suggested that though these bottles are an illusion of plastic bottles they are representational of some kind of universal bottle form and might been seen to aid a memory or suggest a concern about the pollution of the sea.
This week has been a festival of drawing across the ages. My normal classes have been about observational skills and allowing accidents and expression to be a part of that. Drawing with other materials and looking at things differently. I think any mark that is made is drawing so much so that even the work done on Saturday at Hamoeze with clay was a kind of drawing. We were using paper clay...
I think learning the skill of drawing gives a firmer foundation to jump from when drawing in a traditional sense is no longer needed. I have been working with continuous line drawings and looking for big shadow shapes, drawing in a way that challenges how we see things. On Tuesday I did some drawing with Toni and Debra. After a simple Mark making exercises I then moved them on to blind drawing. Objects were hidden in paper bags and they drew what they touched and felt through their fingers. I did this exercise with the year 10 and 11 students that came to my studio on Wednesday. the program for the day was lots of drawing exercise like the ones done the day before in Plymouth and then an afternoon with oil paints and observational painting. Such n enjoyable day.
When people do this they are amazed at what they can do. They make different connections with the objects is question. The other drawing exercise I taught this week was from Dr Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Working with contour drawings. This is where you don’t look at your paper but look at you non drawing hand, student learn to really see. Suddenly noticing things about their hand they had t seen before. Finding their hand fascinating and sustaining drawing that last for over 15 minutes if they really get it. The drawings are bonkers but the seeing is brilliant. It has been a week of watching people come alive to their creativity. Drawing is a language that most people want to be able to have. Showing people that there are lots of ways to gain this skill and lots of them are playful and never fail, is part of removing the fear of not being able to do it. I often say about my workshops and classes that I’m an teaching people to see.
Over the last few weeks I have been taking about my new work and the questions and ideas around remembering and memory. It has caught people’s imaginations it seems and I have already got a number of people wanting to join in. When my parents saw the painting The Lost Boy (it’s is about my brother) my mother response was that she’d rather it was The Found Boy because he was indeed found. Her memory of that day was dominated by the fact that he was found. She is a very positive person.
I showed the “birth paintings” to some people over ArtTrek and have had a contact ask if I could help them with a painting that depicts the loss of a child but would in some way be a commemoration. Memory is a powerful thing and I in no way want to abuse or inflame a difficult memory. It is definitely a place to tread cautiously.
Next Wednesday I am going to do some work with residents at an old people’s home. I will be taking the paper clay and asking them to remember times by the sea and make small objects that reflect those memories. We will be working a little bit with words too. These will be put together to make an epitaph to the sea. I find myself working with clay, my degree material and though it is the more flexible and forgiving paper clay it feels exciting to have a three dimensional element to my work. The ideas around memory are beginning to emerge.
This last 10 days I have been part of North Devon’s open studios, Art Trek. It is always good to welcome people into my studio space and although I do that each week through the art classes that I teach, this is different in that it’s about my practice and having my work out on display. It was quite a different experience to Bucks Open Studios as I am very much a newbie here and relatively unknown, in Buckingham I would usually have quite a few visitors especially to my opening night and would over the two weeks sell a fair amount of work.
I had cleared out my studio before doing open studios and there was a lot of work out that I was connecting to in a new way. I had good un-interrupted time to think about and begin to unpack ideas for future work. It was good.
What I was able to do when people did visit was begin to try those ideas out. Begin to verbalise them and observe reactions. As I talked about memory and the possibly loss or confusion of memory, people connected and were animated about the idea. They were engaging with it in an exciting and interesting manner. To some visitors I showed the birth paintings that have come to light over the last few weeks. “Memory paintings” of the very first moment I saw my children. These paintings have been hidden away for at least 8 years they are part of a “secret practice”. Occasionally being seen by me as I looked through my plan chest to find something or to cull some of the mountains of work to make space. These paintings have thrown up exciting and interesting reactions. Reactions and connections that seem to be about the start and the end of life. I’m not ready to post these pictures on the Internet, not yet but I am making work about memories and moments and as I have thought so much about the coast over the last year they are continuing to be about that. One of my first memories of being at the seaside is loosing my brother on Camber sands. He was lost for ages. The painting is my thoughts and feeling about how that might have looked but I wonder what he will think of it and how his memory of this event differs.... I need to ask.
As for open studios, it has taught me good lessons this year. I feel I have cut the ties to selling and feel utterly free to make what I want, no commercial ties at all. I want to return to the MA totally free of that constraint and free to make what is in my soul perhaps. For the first time in a while I feel excited and connected to my work. It’s been a good 10 days of reflection and action!
below: painting from my sketchbook of today’s dog walk. Worked from memory. Watercolour and graphite
Having spent a large portion of last week clearing out my studio and recycling unwanted paintings and drawings. This week has had to be about “so what now....” I have spent the last year thinking about the destructive use of the planet and particularly the use of plastic and how it ends up on our beaches. I care passionately about this but I wonder now if this is actually my art practice. At the end of last year I helped a fellow student with her MA show, well only a small aspect of it, in that I illustrated a book that she wanted to put into her show as part of her installation “A38 tourist information centre” Toni has been collecting snippets of conversation overheard on her travels. These “Eves droppings” were turned into a book of this title. Toni described each one to me and through conversation, drawing and description we gradually came up with a picture for each one. These were done on the iPad and were definitely illustrations not “paintings”.
Over the summer I have found it harder and harder to engage with the plastic work I was doing in the first year and have become increasingly engaged with the practice I have been doing for years; telling stories and painting memories, working from my memory and imagination. There has been an element that this has been a “secret practice” and I need to think about why this is so. I found paintings going back to the beginnings of my working life as an artists, paintings that no one has really seen. Many of them have over the years been “recycled”. Amongst them where paintings of the very first moment I saw my three children. These are powerful and precious remembered moments. They are exciting images too.
I have had time to look at a particular sketchbook that has a number of these images in, moments that are not so happy and needed expression.
Alongside this I have been thinking about a collaboration with Musgrove hospital’s Art For Life coordinator, Lisa Harty. This will entail working with a couple of hospital wards, the children’s education centre and the care for the elderly ward. We are beginning to talk about a project that centres around memories and more specifically memories associated with the seaside and holidays there.
I was enthralled by the Grayson Perry channel 4 programs on Rights of Passage. These seem to talk massively about art, memory and community. I was especially interested by the episode on death as I think this is such an important area and believe art can play a part in difficult and challenging times in our human existence.
I have only the beginnings of ideas for the direction my work will take over the next year of the MA but I feel as if I have an exciting new starting point. One that will perhaps reboot my art practice for years to come.
I can’t pretend not to be disappointed. In Buckingham my opening nights were busy and full. I sold work and booked people onto workshops and classes. Though it was lovely to see the people that came, really lovely, it was a challenge once again to my art practice and what I am doing.... but in a strange way it was releasing, maybe I can no longer have a practice that is about selling work. I must finally concede to doing exactly what I want to do as an artist. No shoulds, no aughts, no musts....
It makes sense to completely use this next two years on the MA to fully discover what I am as an artist and to stop messing about. I have stopped feeling passionate about my work, I feel lost and at sea in many ways, almost feeling more excited about a day working in the garden than a day in the studio. Next week there will need to be some serious “showing up in the studio” on my behalf. Things are forming in my mind but I’m not sure anyone is going to like it but me! I need to stop second guessing what other people want, possibly even the tutors on the MA and do what makes my art and soul sing. Then I will be doing the “right” work whatever that means, maybe the work that is in me, is mine....
It’s Art Trek at the end of this week. North Devon’s open studios and I am taking part. I am hoping for good uncluttered time in the studio and so I’m am clearing out. It’s time. Brilliantly I have an art assistant this week so it’s easier to stay focused... the dog seems to be helping too! it’s always good to see old work and make judgements about what to keep. I’m not particularly precious about work. I have a potter’s mind set on this I think. The need for space helps to drive this and although sometimes I do throw out things I wish I hadn’t, I can’t keep making work and storing it. If I died tomorrow what would I want to be left? Does this work represent me? I have spent a year on the MA questioning my aesthetic and wondering if what I do is paint and draw. I feel like I have taken my practice completely to pieces and am not sure what is left. I feel somewhat directionless. Though I care passionately about the plastic in the sea and on the beaches I’m not really sure if it’s my art practice.... so what is. Maybe looking at all this work and deciding what it’s not will help....
Very excited to be selling these lovely paint boxes for Joan of Art. these boxes have just three pigments in and everything needed for going out sketching... the is their website https://www.joacreations.com
When ever I run a class or art holiday i am always hugely struck by how much is gained form sharing creativily with others. this year art holiday is no exception. there is always that first moment when strangers come together on a holiday; will they get on? Will the week run smoothly? Will people be happy and enjoy all that is planned for the week ahead?
This last week has been very hard work and hugely rewarding. the group quickly gelled over shared experiences and creative desires. There is a joy from being in the landscape and connecting to it in a way that personal and enveloping. Looking and really looking again at what is around each person, striving to recreate that in some way on a page. Five days away from all that life normally throws at the guests and being able to concentrate on being there was exciting and exhausting.
at the end of the week each one went away having set themselves new goals within their art practice and withthr realisation of the joy to be gained form connecting to their creative selves. how wonderful to be part of that.
a visit to the V&A brought me to this exhibition and the work of Kamrooz Aram. His work looks at how object are changed for the meaning they carry within a culture particularly his own muslim culture and how this is change by placing these object within a museum or white cube space. He uses plinths and wall paintings alongside the objects themselves to convey the changed nature of objects and to ask questions about how we view them once they are historical or removed form the original purpose or place for which they were designed.
I have been collecting object for the beach for months now and have the constant question around these objects “what to do with them.” I am struggling to loosen the hold of an aesthetic background and feel unhappy with doing so but how to convey the horror of the plastic that I’m picking up from the beach and still maintain an artist practice that I’m am engaged and happy with?
Seeing the work of Aram felt like one of those light bulb moments. This plastic has an historical context. It is the result of a changing world an anthropogenic age. How will this age be recorded? I could start to do that now with my own collection and depiction of this age. I could begin collecting and recording locations in a specific way may be through multiple media.... the horror shown as a this is how the world is now.... lots to think about...