Our annual festival of local creativity, The E17 Art Trail, has started. I have studied the guide to this ever expanding field of artistic bestowal and I am wondering how I can, as a visitor, do the collective emanation justice. The trail has grown to such an extent there is probably no way of taking it all in. Indeed any attempt to do so might be considered superficial and a discourtesy to the gifts of the organisers and contributors. There is the risk of becoming a Mr Nasty, he of ‘Pythonesque’ gluttony, who kept on demanding more and exploded before he could even contemplate expending some of the energy of those gifts heaped upon him. If every listing is an offer of a gift then the prospective visitor has to decline many of the offers and hope that no offence is given and/or taken by doing so. I know from having been a contributor to each trail (from 2008 to 2011) that I wanted my offerings to be accepted, taken and relished in a variety of ways, each involving the investment of various energies on the part of giver and taker – and in such acts of artful bestowal giving and taking are not necessarily fixed roles.
This year I am not contributing to the trail as an individual listed artist and I have also not collaborated with artists groups as I/we have done in previous years. There are numerous reasons for my lack of participation however I doubt they are of much interest to this year’s E17 artists and audience – a potential outing that looks anything but diminished by my lack of presence. I had entertained the idea of Martin Creed like sprints through art trail venues. Despite the appeal of the alternating togetherness and loneliness of long distance artiness, that antic risks doing some considerable and unwelcome damage literally, metaphorically and symbolically. Obviously a lack of some original thought can explain my contributing absence although I was still to be found late on the night of 31st August, E17 Art Trail Eve, busily preparing an art trail itinerary, my participating presence – ho ho ho. Last year I vainly published a list of potential visits but this year my visits are supposed to be surprises. How did our first day unfold?
Day 1 was a challenging day to set out on the trail given the presence of the EDL march and the counter demonstrations. In the morning I had doubts about being out and about in Walthamstow for fear of the potential confusion, hysteria and violence that can be generated by extreme racial and political prejudice and intolerance. It was not only the belligerence of the English Defence League I feared but also that of opposing factions intent on similarly violent confrontation. I ventured into the town centre to do a few errands and to test the local water so to speak. Walthamstow Market, High Street expresses how multi racial and multi ethnic this town is, and how peaceful the interaction of the diversity is most of the time; something to admire. I was encouraged by the art trail hub at the library and decided to set out on the trail in the afternoon.My planned route and itinerary was thus – 2 to 38 to 100 & 101 to 123 to 23.
A gift of the allotment - August 2012
2 – The Bank of Walthamstow
One of the reasons/excuses for my non participation as a listed artist is lack of funds. I thought I would start off my trail with a visit to a truly local bank manager to seek a bit of quantitatively easing E17 dosh to finance some artful visitations. Anticipating a demand for some collateral I rustled together a bag of surplus fruit and vegetables harvested from the allotment. Of course I was not going to tell the manager it was surplus. I hoped my hunger (for art) would be considered valuable enough for the loan of some notes for which I would also promise to visit at least all those venues and artists listed above. I also hoped the visited artists might exchange items for those notes and so stimulate the currency of the Bank of Walthamstow. I imagined myself as an E17, J S G Boggs like character as brought to me by the 1992 documentary, Money Man, directed by Philip Haas. Unforgivably, as an E17 field student, I failed to read the small print of the listing properly and when I arrived at the Bank of Walthamstow I discovered the bank was not yet open to the public. The prospect of a career in E17 merchant banking did not look good. I promised to return and left quickly in case the warm weather might cause my vegetable commodities (by which I also mean my reserve of brain cells) to depreciate further.
Venue 100 - Arts and Crusts, Victoria Rd
Original Army - Peep Show Curiosities
Still Life in Sugar by Sarah Hardy.
100 – Still Life in Sugar – by Sarah Hardy / Comics from East London by Paul Francis / Peep Show Curiosities
Field Study’s Man in E17 is very good at getting lost in E17 due to an increasingly accomplished ineptitude in map reading. Are there no limits to his – ok – my incompetence? Instead of 38, it was 100, the Arts and Crusts Cafe, where I found myself next, lured no doubt by the finely honed skills of art cafe proprietor, curator and barista, Andrew.
Another reason for my non participation this year is lack of honey. Our honey bee colonies have barely made sufficient stores to feed themselves over the autumn and winter months let alone supply the sweet teeth of us weird white and smokey things called beekeepers. In each of the art trails from 2008 to 2011 I have used honey as a sort of art material to express a variety of ideas about place and belonging. The lack of a honey harvest this year leads to an analogy of a painter being asked to paint without any paint.
Andrew and I exchanged the bag of fruit and veg’ for a cup of roasted Arabica(?) and with that essential stimulation I set about consuming Sarah Hardy’s wonderful cake come icing sugar sculpture. I paused to savour the promise of the bit of the stag beetle I would bite off and gobble first. The beetle was having none of this bitter sweet vanitas and scuttled off out of sight leaving me with the caterpillars, snails and assorted fruity momento mori. In my mind the beetle found its way into the glazed peep show arenas of Original Army where spectral circus performers concealed curious crepuscular goings on. I was wary of exposing my eyeballs up close to the diabolus within and shifted my attention to comic capers of a different sort.
I found myself in the more bucolic company and territory of Joseph Tredgold as remembered by comic artist, Paul Francis, in 'A Pupil of Nature'. Paul’s sparing monochrome pen and ink style rendered the possibly fictional but definitely comic Joseph Tredgold as a Walthamstow based experimental field student of looking and drawing. Where do you have to go and how do you have to position yourself to represent the truth /the Truth, of nature? Mindful of Paul’s cautionary graphic tale I decided to leave the procumbent Tredgold in the cafe and locate myself standing upright in front of a homely, harmonious and orderly composition as provided by the delicately tonal scrutiny of Sarah Hardy, and the kindness of her hosts, Andrew and Carol.
101- The Hand Drawn Wallpaper – Sarah Hardy
Across the road from Arts and Crusts in Andrew and Carol’s house there was suspended above and on the wall space of the front room fireplace a host of finely drawn insects, insect bits and other miniature beasts. The fragility of the creatures was recreated in pencil on a fine white paper used as wallpaper, their variously broken and otherwise decayed and depleted bodies explored through different points of view. The gentle fall of the ghosts, the traces of insect shades, had a slightly disconcerting presence in the homely setting of that private and personal room adorned with more colourful and robust memories. It had a resonance with the vanitas work displayed in the cafe. I did not want to outstay my welcome nor stray from the Sarah Hardy trail of arthropod body parts and so left a busy Arts and Crusts to find the source of the insect fright.
38 – Broken Bees, Bugs and Birds. Drawings by Sarah Hardy.
This venue was Sarah’s garden studio space where she practices her crafts. It seemed to be a quiet place but for the intrusive drone of the police helicopters overhead tracking the march and demonstrations nearby. There was some talk of how people, particularly families with younger children, might have been put off doing the art trail in the area because of the risk of trouble by the march. There was an array of studies, closely observed and absorbing still lives to see, each reproduced in various graphic media from original pencil drawings to limited edition litho-prints. There were also Sarah’s collections of insects and her tools to examine them. Looking in what might have been a cigar box full of insects dried of life, my thoughts were cast back to earlier in the day when I had visited one of those small booths on the high street market to try and get my watch strap repaired. There seemed to be a poetic comparison to be made between the watch-smith patiently picking through a tub of tiny watch parts with tweezers and that assortment of insects bereft of their parts. I gave Sarah the hornet I retrieved from a bee hive earlier in the year, as a gesture of appreciation for her contribution to ‘my art trail’ and then made my bumbling way to Vestry House Museum to see ‘Florophilia’.
from, Florophilia. Curated by Lili Spain and Sarah Grainger Jones at Vestry House Museum.
Coming up next:
Day 1 dreamed on into Day 2.