It was a breath of fresh air, literally, as the colours of Mike’s palette are such that a sense of the outdoors and natural places the work is centered around resonates from the pieces in the show and echoed around a space full of sympathy for the work.
A sense of place and of species
In the show Mike looks at colloquial names for the birds and wild flowers that he has encountered on walks he’s undertaken, with a wonderful sense of both place and species being established in each piece through a sensitive composition of colour and word. The balance between the intuitive, scientific and colloquial is present in all the works. He has also taken facsimile copies of the notes of one of the north east’s pioneering ornithologists, George Temperley, and added marks of colour that bring the pages to life and acknowledge both the spontaneity of the note taking and the wider context of the landscape and birds that the notes came from. He has previously worked in a similar way with the diaries of Dorothy Wordsworth.
Learock – Skylark
The one departure from word and colour was a piece that combined these two elements with a pure sense of representational imagery – a photograph of a skylark. I have always been something of a loose sounding board for Mike’s work and understand the process he brings to his art. He obviously knows of my work and asked if I had an image of a skylark, but against a pure blue background. I was able to oblige and Mike played it against the words and colours of its colloquial Northumbrian name, Learock. The piece, included on an end wall in the show at the Customs House, simply seemed to state what the rest of the work was about. It gave the exhibition a concrete visual reference that played across the rest of the work in the show.
It also worked!
As a result we are going to produce a series of works that combine both our disciplines, the images will always need to be against as pure a colour as possible and we aim to start with blue.
On leaving the Customs House Mike took my mum and I to Marsden Grotto. I had no idea what to expect and Mike was not forthcoming either when I asked him about it – ‘I’ll just leave it for you to see’ was all he would say. To say I was bowled over would be something of an understatement. More of this in the next post. Kittiwakes everywhere and a fortuitous blue sky gave rise to other images that we could use in our collaboration. We only had an hour or so at Marsden before going to see another exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland, WALK ON: 40 Years of Art Walking, curated by Cynthia Morrison-Bell (who we spent a hour or so with at the Grotto, both Cynthia and I feeling as if we were on some sort of school magical mystery tour), Alistair Robinson and with the collaboration of Janet Ross and Mike. I knew though I had to get back and spend more time at the Grotto so we planned to return in the evening for a few hours.
An eclectic mix
The exhibition in Sunderland was very diverse and eclectic. It was meant to be. Work from all sorts of media based around the idea of walking and how the very act of moving through space is often the starting point for and the driving force behind creating work. In such a diverse show you are always going to respond to certain pieces while others leave you cold. Once again Mike figured in the show along with my great friend Brendan Stuart Burns.
It was fantastic to see their work in such a prestigious international show and not surprisingly as both Mike’s and Brendan’s work resonates with all that I have a love of, I was drawn to their pieces. There were others of course; Tim Robinson’s film, Connemara, an intersection between writing, film-making and the natural world; Brian Thompson’s sculptural pieces exploring two and three dimensional shapes drawn from walking a site and using maps as a starting point to reveal the development of place in relation to time; James Hugonin’s incredibly intricate and complex prints and Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson’s collaboration exploring notions of wilderness.
The evening saw us back at the Grotto and with the blue backdrop gone, cloud having pushed in towards the end of the day, I began an exhilarating couple of hours working with the kittiwakes and being immersed in one of the largest British colonies of this beautifully clean white gull. Post to follow!