Urban walk July 2014

This was a very brief walk with a focus on street art in a small area of Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne, but not a comprehensive recording of all that was there.

Street art. Robin.

Street art. Robin.

Street art. Three paste up pieces.

Street art. Three paste up pieces.

Street art. Sumo wrestler.

Street art. Sumo wrestler.

Street art. White Y fronts with red trim.

Street art. White Y fronts with red trim.

Shutter with red paint peeling off blue paint, Lime Street, Ouseburn.

Shutter with red paint peeling off blue paint, Lime Street, Ouseburn.

Street art. Paste up.

Street art. Paste up.

Street art. Face.

Street art. Face.


Urban walk June 2014

When We Were Young Ones


Rik Mayall died on 9th June 2014, at too young an age. So many – famous, infamous and unknown – expressed their shock at his sudden passing.

He tended to play characters that I would prefer to avoid but recognise as people I have sometimes met or observed from a distance. I enjoyed The Young Ones, although probably listening more than seeing as the television was an old black-and-white set which was unable to convey a clear picture.

I was a student. I shared with one other person at a time but had friends who shared houses in larger numbers. I recognised The Young Ones as people around me, even if the characters might not always be the same gender. It captured the spirit of what it was like to be a student at that time, although the house looked in better condition than many of our student rentals.

Politics felt a crucial element of our lives at that time. Maybe it was because we were young? And maybe some were encountering different political beliefs from those around them when they were children. People seemed to target the universities to win the hearts and minds of our generation with religion and/or politics.

For those of us who studied art and design history (all the art and design students as well as art history ones), Marxist and feminist theories were amongst the approaches to visual culture that we were taught. Left wing politics were the ‘correct’ politics, but some were more centre right.

Sometimes people were involved in politics due having a relationship with someone who supported a left or far left party. I remember when I was still at school hearing about girls joining a political group to find boyfriends. Some were genuinely into the politics and tried to recruit others. There were marches and demonstrations, student strikes and sit-ins. It was still the Cold War, and we had grown up in a post-World War world in which our parents and grandparents had experienced a very different world and society was changing, shifting to what was supposed to be a more equal society for all.

The Young Ones shows a world of predominantly male undergraduate students. I think that it was still not much more than about 10% of our generation who did degrees, and there were a lot more men than women: 42.8k men and 25.3k women just a couple of years before The Young Ones was written. It did not look that male-dominated from the Faculty of Arts and Design at our polytechnic where the history of art and fashion courses were predominantly female and the fine art course was about 50/50.

So, The Young Ones, in an odd way, was probably more typical of the student experience of the day than I experienced (albeit decidedly more overtly violent and with a slightly more surrealist twist). It did capture that edginess I remember. It has been strange to see some of that programme and a whole episode of Bottom that have been shown to commemorate Rik Mayall. I didn’t like Bottom and yet I found that I remembered the episode shown. Watching excerpts of The Young Ones seemed like watching a video of people whom I’d met at student parties. I hadn’t expected that. It feels strangely like I’ve lost someone with whom I was acquainted years ago. I think it shows how well Rik Mayall conveyed the characters he played and connected with his audience.

The Late Shows 2014

The Late Shows 2014 25aThe Late Shows are Newcastle upon Tyne’s version of the Museums At Night weekend that happens in the rest of the UK and Europe on a weekend in May. The Newcastle and Gateshead version has added culture, with artists, designer-makers, musicians, performers, food producers and many others creating a wonderful weekend.

I concentrate on going to venues and events in Ouseburn, just East of Newcastle city centre, which are open both on Friday and Saturday. The atmosphere is so friendly and there lots of venues are within walking distance of each other. There is something about wandering through the streets at a leisurely pace, wearing The Late Shows glowstick (yellow for Newcastle, orange for Gateshead), that causes strangers to smile at each other in Ouseburn.

This year, I started at the Quayside end, with a quick visit to The Cycle Hub to pick up a glowstick pendant and to vote on the Tour De Censored entries before heading across the road, past a lively crowd outside the Tyne Bar, to the Toffee Factory. There was a warm welcome there, and quite a crowd.

The spaces that can be open to the public at the Toffee Factory work very well there for such events. The generous reception area was turned into a stylish cocktail bar, with a display or market stall of refurbished vintage audio equipment, including Dansette record players. The big meetings room had the vintage market (some lovely frocks and diamanté jewellery), a team of make up artists to create glamorous looks and the Moon Booth where people could have a photograph taken to record the moment.

Outside, there was a roof of red tarpaulins and a wonderful temporary black and white dance floor laid over the gravel. Food stalls were grouped near the chimney. There was swing music and a Charleston dance lesson. People on the gravel, including small children, began to join in as the lesson progressed. Everyone was smiling or laughing.

From there, I went on to the Mushroom Works. They always do something imaginative and interesting for special events. This year, they were celebrating A Midsummer Night’s Dream and transformed the building with real trees and plants, generously lent to them by Cowells Garden Centre (the trees were especially lovely). Fairies appeared here, there and everywhere.

There were magical chocolate delights and cakes pretty enough to satisfy Titania herself, and the opportunity to be photographed as a fairy (with a prize for such selfies shared online). In the yard outside, visitors could paint a fairy door by the Muddy Fingers Pottery and watch it being fired using the raku method to create a magical transformation. In the gallery, there were exquisitely folded paper leaves upon which we were invited to write a love sonnet and pin it on Titania’s tree.

I returned to The Cycle Hub to relax with a smooth cappuccino as I tweeted about the Mushroom Works, checked out the new Ouseburn Futures banner, and enjoyed being amongst a relaxed, happy crowd.

On the second night of The Late Shows in Ouseburn, I passed stormtroopers guarding Ernest and a waft of Afro-Caribbean spice from the café at The Tower. I joined Theresa Easton in the Ouseburn Farm yard where she was giving people the opportunity to try printing and to tell them about the Ouseburn Community Art project. We had a lovely space, with the friendly Under the Bridge workshop people showing their painted recycled furniture in the room next to us. We were surrounded by activities including learning how to start growing a plant, petting the pets, and face painting (as well as the farm animals to see). We could hear swing music and smell food from the café upstairs.

I took 3 of my linocuts with me – a cockerel, hen and a goat based on real ones in Ouseburn Farm – and Theresa had one done by the project group of another of the Farm’s goats.
It was great fun to talk to people and to see which linocut they chose to print. It was the first time that I had seen these linocuts printed on a press. Both children and adults tried printing, and sometimes parents had a go whilst waiting for their children who were with the animals. Seeing the sheer delight on a child’s face as she lifted the paper off one of my linocuts and saw what she had printed was lovely and unexpected.

Ouseburn is a wonderful place, and on occasions such as The Late Shows it is truly magical. The 2014 Late Shows there were probably the best yet, with a sense of warmth and sharing wonderful things. Thank you very much to all those whose hard work made it such an enjoyable weekend and put all those smiles on people’s faces.


There were lots of other places in Ouseburn that I didn’t have time to visit but other people mentioned as enjoying, including: 36 Lime Street, Biscuit Factory, Northern Print, the Cumberland Arms, The Holy Biscuit.

The next big event in Ouseburn is Evolution Emerging.

Urban colours


I realised that I have mostly blogged on my art blog in recent months, and appear not to be blogging as much (although I am) because over time I add to a single post about a painting, rather than a new post for each day I do something. Kate Bentham then set the [entirely optional] theme for Week 19 2014 of WeeklyBlogClub as colour. I wondered if I could blog a rainbow…

The colours



Artist’s block

Street dancer, oil on canvas. © Janet E Davis.

One of the last set of paintings I did, around winter 2008-09. Street dancer, oil on canvas. © Janet E Davis.

I have suffered from artist’s block since February 2009.

It’s not a total block. I first channelled my creative impulse into taking photographs. Taking my DSLR for a walk got me out of the house during a period when difficulty in breathing made walking even short distances hard work. I took about 20,000 photographs, some of them bad or accidental ones, some average in a snapshotty way, and some that when I see them again make me think “Oh! Did I really take that?” (in a positively surprised way).

I first had a camera of my own, a Kodak Instamatic, when I was about 8 years old. I was formally taught a bit about photography as an art student in my late teens, but not the more technical, commercial photography things such as how to use lights in a studio. I use photography in different ways at different times. 20 years ago, I tended to use it instead of sketching to capture material for landscape paintings. Since 2009, I have used it more as a method for capturing a visual impression of an event or experience (usually in a set or several sets of photos), or to create a single picture of something (usually a landscape or detail of an urban landscape).

Then on 1st January 2013, I found I couldn’t focus my beloved DSLR even manually so couldn’t take photos with it. I have taken snaps with the 2 MP camera in my iPod Touch (with probably scratched lens cover) or the 3 MP camera in my old 3GS iPhone which creates a pinkish cast in the middle of the photo and a greenish cast on the outer area of it. I find it very frustrating, especially when I have seen pictures that I could only get with a telephoto lens and the manual settings of a DSLR, eg swans squabbling on a golden river at sunset.

Life drawing week 1, 20-minute pose. © Janet E Davis.

Life drawing week 1, 20-minute pose. © Janet E Davis.

At times since 2009 I have tried to draw. I can draw when I’m in a studio and have other people around me who are drawing. The smell of a proper studio helps to get me into a drawing frame of mind. The scents include white spirit, oil paints, linseed oil, quite freshly-sawn wood, plaster of Paris. When I could afford to, I went to life drawing sessions. I enjoyed doing that and would love to do more. You can see what I did on the life drawing pages of this blog.

More recently, I have attended art classes at the Hatton Gallery to try to kick-start myself into painting (posts about that are on my art blog). I like drawing in art galleries. The Hatton Gallery has a particular significance for me because my art teacher at school would have been there when he was an undergraduate, and I think he would have drawn and painted in that building (I think he also worked in another building at some stage). I have found it quite reassuring, probably because it evokes distant memories of someone who encouraged me to draw and seemed to believe that I had some ability even when I was just 11 years old.

Going to the art classes has meant I have seen exhibitions that I wouldn’t have made the effort to see otherwise. Looking at work in one of the exhibitions has been part of the classes which, as an art historian, I really appreciate. I have been drawing things that I wouldn’t be able to elsewhere or wouldn’t think of drawing. I wish the sessions were 30 minutes longer, or that I had somewhere else to go where I could draw in the same space as others for a half-day or a day.

Exercise in tone.

Exercise in tone.

We have also done drawing exercises in the art classes that make me think I should try different ways of mark-making. I want to do more expressive drawings. There are so many different kinds of drawings that I haven’t done yet but I think that I need to draw daily to start feeling sufficient confidence to be expressive. Drawing is a way of looking at things, not necessarily a process that is about an outcome. It can also be an essential part of the process of painting, but even when it isn’t obvious, it helps in the mark-making of painting.

I could blame my inability to get on with painting as a “lack of inspiration,” but I don’t believe in the myth of the artist struck by the coup de foudre of inspiration. Some people think that they need to be in a specific mood to create but I think it’s possible to create in most moods. Music, some space, time, and materials should be all I need. So, why am I unable to focus and get into painting again? What is the block?

The cost of materials makes me anxious. I won’t be able to afford more paint once I have used up what I have, unless I sell some pictures. Part of it is fearing that I won’t produce something really original. Part of it is doubting my skills, now my joints don’t work as well and object to strains and stresses. I think that I fear that I have no ideas or thoughts worth communicating to others. I fear not being able to communicate my ideas effectively, butI also fear being able to express thoughts and feelings effectively. I feel a need to produce work that others will like, but am disturbed by the idea that any of my work is saleable, as if that makes it less ‘genuine.’ It may be avoiding overtly difficult subject matter (although sometimes that is very quietly included, but not so that viewers would notice), but there are always thoughts and ideas in everything I do. The still lives might have been about colour relationships and compositions – and have always been about time. The landscapes have always had a sense of the specific place and time, but also the history of that place.

I am not sure what subject to paint. I would like to go back to painting people because people are interesting, and I’m aware that I look at them in a very different way to how I did when I was 20 or even 5 years ago. Since I don’t have that opportunity currently, I need to rediscover my fascination with landscapes or to find the life in still life compositions again. I just need to get past this block. It feels like granite but can probably be demolished as if it were polystyrene, if I can just find the right way. I can’t go through another year of not painting.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog – which, of course, are of most interest to me, but you might find the fireworks animation based on the stats, and the comparisons with things, vaguely amusing… Thank you very much for reading – and I will endeavour to blog more regularly in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.