Thinking at the Baltic about art

Looking out of the Baltic Café Bar on 15th June 2013.

Looking out of the Baltic Café Bar on 15th June 2013.

Sketches of my fellow art students at Great Yarmouth art college around 1979.On Saturday morning, I saw an unexpected tweet. Dee Nickerson, an artist who went to Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design a few years after me, tweeted that she had read my post about being there. She told me that they were still being sent to some of the same places to draw en plein air. Bear in mind that most of the art school year was in autumn and winter, so our outdoor drawing was cold. Actually, I remember that it could be chilly enough for coats indoors (another good reason to spend time in the ceramic workshop where the kiln often added heat).
Later on, I had a look at her work on the Cork Brick Gallery website (I had looked in the gallery’s window but didn’t go in when visiting Bungay last year), and on the Green Pebble website. I really liked her observations of everyday life, and recognised the East Anglia of the biting winter wind swirling the hair and coats of her elegant, restless people as they stride through the landscape, causing clouds of corvids and gulls to rise up from the fields. East Anglia, perhaps especially by the coast, can be colder even than North East England in winter and spring.

Seeing Dee’s lovely work made me think (and feel guilty that I hadn’t done enough drawing or painting). Then my thoughts turned back to whether there could be a more creative approach to promoting the Ouseburn Futures community group at the Ouseburn Festival as I waited for  the bus on Spillers Quay, by the mouth of the Ouseburn. The sky was a glorious blue as the yellow bus took us to the Baltic Mill. I had been looking forward to visiting the Baltic Artist’s Book Fair, especially since I knew that Theresa Easton, one of the artists based in Ouseburn, was very involved with it and it would be a chance to see her work.

I visited the North East Photography Network and the Side Gallery room first, and chatted with one of the lovely Wideyed photography collective as I looked through examples of their work. I particularly enjoyed the Foreign Bodies piece. Different ways of looking at a specific place interest me and in my work as a historian, I want facts that are connected to a specific time and place. I have also spent a lot of time over the years thinking about how to help people record information accurately and in  ways that should enable the information to be retrieved, collated, and compared. The evidence bags element of the piece was very satisfying.

I was a little unnerved by people encouraging me to touch things and open things. I am so used to being so careful with other people’s artwork after years of working with museum, archive and special collection objects. Even with encouragement, I was approaching the objects carefully and touching as lightly and minimally as possible, just opening books enough to peek inside, or shifting things slightly to see other sides.

I had a short chat with Ruth McCann and admired her art and examples of the bespoke book bindings that she has made, and books she has restored (I do have an interest in such things, especially after I worked a few years ago on a pilot project that included assessing a sample of Newcastle Libraries’ rare books). I wish that I could afford hand bound books, or to learn how to make them.

North Tyneside Council Adult Learning Alliance offers courses in bookbinding for beginners and advanced level. From the standard of work on their stand, I would suggest that these would be good courses on bookbinding.

One of the most tactile pieces was one by Sarah Morpeth. I really like her work. Corvids also feature in some of hers. It was lovely to be able to tell her in person that I really like her work. I have seen and admired some of her pieces previously in the Biscuit Factory. The timeless energy of the natural environment seems to spring out of her work to connect with the viewer.

Susie Wilson’s work is very intriguing. The sculptural quality and the layering of images, with interplay between opaque and translucent layers were intriguing and made me want to spend more time with her work.

I enjoyed seeing the work on the Paper Gallery’s stand. I was familiar with some of the work from having seen photographs of them online, but it was good to see the actual objects (there really is no substitute). Manchester is lucky to have the Paper Gallery. I loved the Build Your Own Flotilla and Towers.

The blackness of the material balanced the almost microscopic detail of the exquisite laser-cut illustrations by Joanna Robson, so that it was never in danger of slipping towards the cute line. She currently has one of these as the header image on her blog – and see lots more pictures in the post New laser cut book – but these do not quite convey the absolute crispness of line, the fineness of detail, or scale. It reminded me of German Expressionist style shadow puppets. I will be looking out for her work in the future.

Rebecca Freeman’s work has a wonderfully edgy darkness of the best kind of fairy tales: the ones that when you re-read them as an adult, you think ‘this is too adult for children’ but you know would not give you the same quality of shiver if you had not read them as a child first. Her work is lovely, and haunting. I think that her business card was possibly my favourite, with silver ink on black card.

It was lovely to see Theresa Easton’s own work (there are also photos of lots of other people’s work, including a post about the Book Fair with lots of pictures). I see Theresa fairly often in passing or in a meeting in Ouseburn but we never usually get the chance to say much more than hello. I am a great admirer of her ability and apparently untiring enthusiasm to encourage others to print and make things. She has a wonderful spirit of generosity in sharing her skills and passion for printing and art. It was a special treat to have the opportunity to have a chat with her as well as to see her work, and I really appreciated it (possibly even more so since I didn’t expect her to have a bit of time to share). I was intrigued by her use of imagery from 19th century handbills and other ephemera. The typography of these tends to be very satisfying, to give a sense of metal type carefully compiled and a very physical sense of printing. I liked the texture of the layering in Theresa’s prints, and the strong sense of place and time passing in some of them. I will leave it to another post on another blog to say more about the thoughts that came out of our chat.

Theresa thoughtfully introduced me to Susan Mortimer who kindly invited me to sit down beside her behind the stall. It was so lovely to be made welcome. She showed me some of her work, and we started to have a very interesting discussion about art and life. Again, I think that I will share more of my thoughts that I had during and after that conversation in another post on a different blog. Susan is someone with a very keen sense of place. She takes photographs and produces lovely prints in book form, sometimes with maps. I was very intrigued by the folded form of book which she told me was made using the Turkish map folding technique (look it up in Google Images – it’s fascinating). The folding was so crisp and precise, and with a section of map relevant to the images on the other side, it added a depth to the objects. I am very grateful to Susan for sparing so much of her time to converse with me. It was very thought-provoking, and just what I needed to do.

I visited The Book Apothecary in the Library on the 2nd level, and also enjoyed discovering the display by students from the Cleveland College of Art and Design, Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, which comprised pieces on spare shelf space, in among the library books, that were inspired by or responses to the books that would normally be on those shelves.

After all this viewing of art, I needed a coffee downstairs so that I could sit quietly, digest the art, think through the thoughts, and I found myself drawing the little sketch at the top before I started to write anything. A artist’s book fair that makes me want to draw and think of making other work must be a really good thing. I do hope that the Baltic put on another one next year.

Reading through what I have written about the Baltic Artist’s Book Fair, I realise that I mostly spoke to women rather than men. This was not deliberate. The women perhaps seemed more ready to talk, and perhaps their work just had more of an intriguing element. There were men there, however, including in the North East Photography Network room, on the Paper Gallery stand, the North Tyneside Council Adult Learning AllianceJoshua Cobbin, and the guys on the stand of comic books (there were too many people in front of it for me to see properly).

I would very much like to see the Baltic Artist’s Book Fair back again next year, and hope to see even more art. I missed the workshops this year, so hope that there would also be workshops.



One thought on “Thinking at the Baltic about art

  1. Pingback: Good day sunshine, a week of summer blog posts | weeklyblogclub

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