blackbirds & blackboards

Firstly, blackbirds. Last year I wrote a blogpost about my relationship with a female blackbird that grew over summer 2021. By the end of the year I rarely saw her, but a young male with a slash of white on the edge of his left wing began to visit the garden looking for food.

Last week, he returned! I had stopped feeding the birds for sometime due to a rat popping in (thankfully my neighbour dispatched with that). But when I called tut tut to the male blackbird, and he came down to look for food, I couldn’t resist. Out came the mealworms.

The last couple of days he has been here regularly and is now accompanied by a very large, dominant hen. She screams at him to feed her, with her beak wide open. I confess that, last year, I privileged the females over the males, because the females packed their beaks with mealworms to feed their young. The males just fed themselves. I suspect I was wrong, as it seems both males and females feed the fledglings. Maybe today she needed feeding by him because she has to build up her strength for incubating the eggs?

Anyway, I am pleased they are back.

Update Sunday 24th April: this morning the birds called with their tut tut tut as soon as I opened the back door. I responded, we did this for some time. They occasionally altered length or tone of calls and I mimicked them. Like audio pingpong. As soon as I came in and shut the door, they swooped down and peered around curiously, looking for me, then ate the mealworms.

And Blackboards? The two words have been in my mind a lot and it makes sense to put them together. I have been depicting future flooding areas of the Severn by creating reduction lino-prints. The action of erasing the land where the water covers it was rich for me. So I decided to use a similar technique using chalk and blackboard. I need to experiment, play a while, before committing to a large intense drawing. So I bought a blackboard instead of paper and set to.

I have started tentatively, I want to do my best to get the most out of the materials. Then rub it off and start again. It takes me back to a course I went on last year, Drawing Breath, with Tania Kovats and Chloe Briggs. We drew, then erased, and redrew the same thing again, and again, repeatedly. Looking, really looking, is addictive and meditative too.

I am loathe to show you the drawing until it is finished. But here is how I started it. It began to get dark so I had to stop, it is impossible to see the nuances in artificial light.

Blackbirds, blackboards, both keep my attention, settle me, engage me. They make me smile.

Chair at the top of the forest

This blog links to a piece I wrote about the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail. Amazing it has been found!

CampaignerKate

One visit stands out as being different.  It was 20 years ago today, on 21 March 2002, and was the swansong of landscape architect Paul Walshe, who was retiring as the agency’s head of special areas.  The event, which he organised, was a celebration of the arts in the south west.

After a walk around the National Trust’s Sherborne estate in Gloucestershire on 20 March, we crossed the A40 to the trust’s Lodge Park. This is a fascinating doll’s house-like building, erected in the 1630s as a place of entertainment for John Dutton. 

Lodge Park

We had dinner here, noisily entertained by the Oxford Waits, with guests from the artworld.  I was sitting next to Nancy Sinclair of Aunehead Arts, whom I had not met.  Reading her label I immediately thought of that wilderness in central southern Dartmoor. Nancy was surprised that I knew she came from Dartmoor since…

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Two exhibitions – one either side of the Severn – last chance to see them

Very rarely have I been involved in two exhibitions on both sides of the Severn on the same dates! Both end on Sunday 27th March – the Old Passage exhibition in Arlingham and, across the river further along the estuary, the Severn Sisters show at 7Q in Chepstow.

chalk on black Fabriano at 7Q

So whichever side of the Severn you live, you have an opportunity to see my work. So much better than Instagram!

Both are group shows and offer a diverse range of works for sale, at various prices. From unframed prints to large canvases and everything inbetween.

The Old Passage has the works hung on the walls of their lovely restaurant, which serves up fabulous cakes and wonderful River Severn views. Whilst over in Chepstow, 7Q is only a few steps away from the bank of the Wye, and not far from where both rivers merge into the Severn Estuary.

I am stewarding on Sunday 20th March, at 7Q, 1.30-4pm, and the weather is going to be fab! The perfect day to visit Chepstow, such a historic town on the border of Wales and England. Steeped in history, there is a railway station there too, so popping over from Bristol, Cardiff and Gloucester is fairly simple. Parking is easy.

If you are on the other side of the Severn, a trip to The Old Passage is a different day out. You need to drive there, plenty of parking. Walk along the river banks, eat cakes, or maybe enjoy lunch and sit in the sun reading a copy of my book (also on sale at both venues). What a perfect way to enjoy the day. I live on the opposite bank so do wave!

I shall be over at The Old Passage on the 27th to collect works, so let me know if you will be around. 

Artists at 7Q: The Back, Chepstow NP16

@anniebrennan_textileart @annafinejewelleryuk  @lisadearartworks @severnsideartist @refunkedandfabulous @warrenday.paintings @ceramicsbykarentacey @patriciahomewoodartist @melanieclarkeartist. @uschiarensprice

Artists at Old Passage: Passage Rd, Arlingham, Gloucester GL2 7JR

ends 27th March 2022

Newsletter February 28th 2022

I hope this finds you well and life is returning to a semblance of ‘normal’ since my last newsletter over a year ago. Lots has gone on over that time both outside and in my studio. Here’s a general update split into Flow, studio practice & exhibitions coming up VERY soon.

My studio practice:

I have also been making new works using video, drawing, print and writing. I plan to write a new book too. My studio practice is exploring future flooding of the Severn near the Arlingham Peninsula. If you visit there do pop into the Old Passage Cafe for coffee, cake and see some art – including prints by me. (Embarrassing note – apparently my newsletter said poop not pop!)

I plan to run some drawing workshops in the future – just waiting to complete a house move first!

Exhibitions:

#artistsupportledge exhibition at Hasting Contemporary until April 17th 2022
Old Passage Exhibition, Arlingham until April 2022 – works about the Severn- group show

CINE SISTERS SW – book here

Thursday 3rd March 2022  6:00pm Plymouth Arts Cinema

Join Cine Sisters SW for an evening of artists moving image by womxn artists from across the SW. Hear all about our plans for 2022 and how you can get involved.

My film: Earth Crumbles – a film about the fragility of this earth. Soundtrack by Eva Rune.

SEVERNSISTERS EXHIBITION

10-27 March 2022 The 7Q gallery, situated along The Back, Chepstow, is open from 11-4pm, Thursday to Sunday.

A group of local artists have come together in an exciting collaborative exhibition to be held at the ‘7Q’ Gallery in Chepstow. The ‘Severn Sisters’ are a new collective of artists all inspired or living by the River Severn and surrounding landscape.

“We are a mixed group of contemporary art practitioners working in drawing, print, pottery, jewellery, furniture restoration and textiles. Living alongside the mighty Severn we are all influenced by its beauty.”

STROUD FILM FESTIVALbook here

Stroud, various venues & dates over several days

As the Stroud Film Festival comes around this year, what a treat to be able to see and share stories on the big screen once more . Stories from all over the world, eclectic and original, mainstream and off the beaten track, and in venues that are as diverse as the programme itself: Stroud Brewery, a Mill (the Long Table’s new home), the Trinity Rooms and Minchinhampton Market Hall become temporary cinemas.

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID – launch event Friday, March 11, 2022 7:30 PM  10:00 PM SVA John Street

An evening of short films completed in the last two years by female directors working across the South West. Curated with the intention of celebrating female talent, this collection of shorts offers fresh perspectives and unique, creative visions articulated amid these unparalleled times. From cosmic voyages to genre bending documentary interrogating our reality, our hidden worlds and identity. Prepare to have your senses stimulated.

My film: Together Apart – a film made from a Walking the Land First Friday Walk. Parallel landscapes from May Hill, Gloucestershire and Sweden. Soundtrack by Eva Rune.

Also online of Stroud Film Festival website, When You Call, I Shall Come – Severn Bore during lockdown. Shown as part of Earthphoto2020 & Wells Contemporary 2021

I have been delivering as Flow Contemporary Arts on:

Weymouth Sculpture Trail I was involved with is now in place, you can view images here. (Funded by Weymouth Council). I was a consultant for b-side at the beginning and it is great to see this finally completed. I’ve also been supporting Denman & Gould with their commission to create new work responding to Lydney Harbour Development (coastal Communities Funding). And commissioned films from Steve Geliot for FEP Biosphere Reserve Project  (ACE Funded).

PLEASE NOTE: I am still delivering projects as Flow but have merged the two websites together (Flow and Carolynblackart.com). This is to make my life easier! I am available for consultancy work, curating, project managing and mentoring. Just get in touch. Flowcontemparts@gmail.com will no longer work soon, so please use carolyndevos@gmail.com

The impact of climate change on marginal plants on the banks of the River Severn

The warming climate is strongly linked to changes in ecology and ecosystems. Different flora and fauna may have different ways to adapt to climate change, and those that are unable to adapt may become extinct or migrate to different areas. Increased freshwater runoff in recent years from melting ice and increasing rainfall alters the salinity of the ocean, making it less salty. In the Severn Estuary, the seagrass species Zostera noltii prefers a low salinity environment for germination. As such, Welsh seagrass beds have seen increased productivity in recent years. (Severn Estuary Partnership website )

Until today, I have been looking into how the area near my home will flood within the next 20 or 30 years. The landscape will change completely and hills will become islands. I have been looking into this from the human perspective, how it will affect daily lives of people living here. Reflecting on the body of the water, not the banks.

Today I have turned my attention to the marginal plants that will be affected by what is termed ‘coastal squeeze’. The Environment Agency conducted a two year research project that explored the impacts and provided this definition of what coastal squeeze is:

Coastal squeeze is now defined as ‘the loss of natural habitats or deterioration of their quality arising from anthropogenic structures or actions, preventing the landward transgression of those habitats that would otherwise naturally occur in response to sea level rise in conjunction with other coastal processes. Coastal squeeze affects habitat on the seaward side of existing structures.

According to SEP:

The sea level is rising at a current rate of 3.2 mm per year4, up from 1.7mm per year for 1901-20105. This means that as time goes on, more of the coastline will become inundated with water. This can cause increased coastal erosion rates, as well as flooding areas which were previously land. This increase in sea level is due to a number of factors, including melting of terrestrial (land-based) ice caps and thermal expansion of the ocean. Thermal expansion is estimated to contribute up to 40% of the increase in sea level. Upon excess heating, the ocean gains energy and expands (see Figure 2).  

The image shows what causes the sea level to swell in response to rising temperatures.

When I first began to explore the Severn, I recall asking a botanist how I can find out where the river is freshwater and where it is saline. The Severn Bore forms here, seawater mingles with freshwater and carries on upriver, before returning to the estuary. He told me that the only way to do that is to look at the plants on the riverbanks. Some plants grow fine in saline water, others don’t. As I read about coastal squeeze I began to wonder about which plants will be affected. This is a whole new learning curve for me, I am just beginning to explore it.

The first thing I did was go down to the riverbank and look for plants that survive just on, or above, the tideline. At this time of the year, there aren’t many.

I gently dug out a few with a kitchen fork, handling their roots carefully and washed the river silt off them when I got home. Then made some monoprints with them. 

unidentified marginal plant found near tideline of the Severn

I haven’t identified them yet – one is chickweed and another looks like it belongs to the dandelion family. The prints are beautiful, but they come with a barb. They may be the equivalent of death masks, of final traces of a species under threat. I am pretty sure these ones are very common. And of course I can’t seek out the rarer species and dig them up. So these can only be metaphorical. They can tell the story, but only so far.

They have made me think too about other non-human victims of sea levels rising, and temperatures getting higher too. The Bewick swans that frequent Slimbridge Wildfowl Centre downriver may not come any more, needing to seek colder waters in northern climes.

I have a lot to learn. I find through making images I can begin to understand the complexity. There is a long way to go. But just flagging up the risks is not enough, there need to be solutions. We can’t wear blinkers and hope it goes away.

Banking on things – gambling with the Earth

Last night I attended an online talk by Gabriella Hirst, hosted by Rebecca Farkas. It was very interesting and thought provoking. 

I learned that in Australia they use the term ‘banker’ when a river overflows its sides/banks.

That made me think of other similar terms, such as banking on something happening; banking as in trade. Both have a level of negotiation and gambling. You bank a motorbike/plane to tilt on corners and retain balance. Tilt too far and you will roll over. We bank on something happening – when we do we usually take a risk, because the trust is not based on facts but on habit. We bet on it.

A bank can be a building, where we deposit money, and take it out in a tidal way. Cashflow.

Are we banking on climate change? Or gambling with climate change? Think of fossil fuels – we have constantly taken out from the earth, but are we putting enough back fast enough? Fishing and bad agricultural practises that operate only for profit, but not for the environment.

What if the tide changes? 

If sea levels rise, tides will be affected. 

We can’t bank on finding a solution, but we should at least tilt and try and see things differently. It is the least we can do.

The above image is based on projections for future flooding provided by this organisation. They describe themselves as “An independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.”

The Environment Agency also provides flood forecasting, where you check the long term flood risk for any area in England. Check your area on both – have a look at the difference, to try and get some sense of what might happen near you.

I based the level of flooding around the Arlingham Peninsula, but it may not be accurate. Finding the science is challenging as at present we are in constant flux weather-wise allover the world. I am looking locally, trying to understand one small area, to raise awareness and encourage others to do the same. Because if we can envisage what it MIGHT be like, near our homes, we will maybe start putting in place preventative measures.

sunspots in my eyes, sunrise over the Severn

REPOST FROM 2018

On Friday 4th February I went on a Walking the Land First Friday walk in the local woodlands. It reminded me of this piece of writing which took a bit of digging to find. I didn’t know the word Komorebi until last week. As I edited my film I thought about Escher’s tessellated shapes, which took me back to this text. I may write a new piece about the woodland experience, but meanwhile do have a look at the new film.

film: Light Follows Dark

SUNSPOTS (2018)

I’m on the banks of the Severn, just before sunrise. I know it’s coming very soon, as above the Cotswold skyline there is a small row of eight or nine clouds just above the horizon. They look like fragments of torn paper, maybe from a to-do list, all of similar width and height, separated by tiny bits of sky. They are up-lit by the sun below and as it rises it frames them with a subtle, red, glowing edge. Each piece becomes more vividly defined before the power of the sun overcomes my retina’s and the tiny clouds fade away in the glare.

I’m standing precisely opposite this imminent sunrise and the wildlife around the river is responding to its arrival too. Crows and gulls spiral above my head, calling, whilst on the watery stage characters enter from both left and right. On my left, a sole duck floats silently towards the centre of the stage, anticipating the arrival of it’s spotlight. It is a little early really, but that’s fine, it will learn.

On my right three ducks slip out from behind the cliff, chattering together.

Above my head, the world of business is approaching another Monday morning. Transatlantic planes fly toward the sun, European ones too, but lower in the sky. None of them are much more than tiny white arrows high above, leaving chalky tails in the pale blue sky. I wonder, when we have gone through Brexit, will this lessen? Will the sky become hauntingly quiet, as it did in 2010 when the volcanic Icelandic dust forced the closure of the UK airspace?

I think about M.C. Escher’s patterns of black and white birds. Today the sky is like that, the white ‘birds’ are planes, the black one’s are crows and gulls. The scale changes, as it does in his drawings, those flying lowest are closer, more vivid, those in the distance more abstract and vague. I recall Norman Ackroyd and Robert McFarlane discussing the white birds in Ackroyd’s paintings, on Radio 4 last week. How the little egret is now the whitest bird we see on our rivers. There are none here today, sadly. They will have flown off with the herons earlier, before the tide rolled in.

As I absorb all these activities, a circle of ripples appears in the water. A number of other concentric rings roll up out of the water, then disappear. They are moving closer to centre stage, they know that, very soon, the sun will rise in full glory. The lone duck is now joined by two other pairs, all moving determinedly towards the golden rippled area that is appearing on the surface of the water. The fish underwater do the same.

The shimmering lines of light come closer to me, creeping over the lapping tidal waves as the sea flows upriver, as it always does, on the Severn.

We reach the crescendo, the great ball of fire rises up and the ducks are silhouetted by its brightness, bobbing about on the highlights of the folds in the water. I stare in wonder at this red mass and take a deep breath – the day has begun. I turn away to walk home and see vibrant acid green sunspots peppering the ground. I watch them as I move back up to the path. As I walk up the street I notice they are now red blurs.

Eyes are amazing, complimentary colours vying for attention, just as the skyborn objects were, the fish in the water, the ducks on the waves.

All mere sunspots in my eyes.

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Severn Flooding 2030 landscape shifts from rising sea levels

I have just put 4 reduction linocut prints up for sale on Instagram, from an edition of 6 under #artistsupportpledge. I had a work selected for the Hastings Contemporary #asp show.

Severn Flooding 2030

My research into the future flooding of the Severn, close to where I live, has resulted in me using a wide range of materials to try and capture, visually, how the change will take place. I don’t have scientific facts, but there are several data outputs and guesstimates.

When it comes to depicting slow, subtle but significant landscape change, moving images are useful. I have made several film shorts exploring different viewpoints and perspectives depending on camera sightline and distance. Last night there was a programme on TV using time lapse film to capture melting glaciers which was fascinating.

These reduction linocuts were preceded with diagrams, sketches, contours and even some rough model making. I looked at mud patterns and archipelagos. I found the cutting process gave a lovely flow, my cuts move through just as the river water would. It is a map, but not a map. The flow follows contours that also describe rising land.

Doing a reduction cut requires planning, concentration and calmness, yet it is also quite nerve wracking because it could be ruined at any of the steps.  I assure you this was not my first attempt.

Visit my instagram profile @severnsideartist to buy. And if you do, a big THANK YOU – it will pay for a course for me.