Graphic Grey

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Developing Dylan

This post was written for the Dylanwad 100 blog, part of the celebrations for the centenary of the writer and poet Dylan Thomas.

Whilst working with young people on the Delivering Dylan project I've been struck by the potential of using visual art as a gateway into other, more challenging subjects, and the incredible capacity of young people to rise to any challenge.

I'm a visual artist, primarily a painter, with a background in cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation. For the past few years I've been working with an industrial polymer chemist to explore the possibility of using industrial materials and scientific processes to create fine art. This has been fascinating, and has enabled me to collaborate with all sorts of exciting people. Last year I was contacted by the London Science Museum and asked to assist in devising methods of using art to improve access to science. Science, it seems, is viewed by many young people as something inherently boring, bearing no relation at all upon their lives. When the word 'science' is coupled with 'museum' it unfortunately seems to trigger yawns all around the classroom. Interestingly though, when creative activity (art) is used first as a catalyst to capture attention and engage young people in the practicalities of science, then their response is much more positive. You can read about my collaborative projects on my blog: http://ruthmcleesart.blogspot.co.uk/
 
My experience of the Developing Dylan Project has revealed several similarities. Of course I'm not implying that the mention of Dylan Thomas triggers yawns! But what I do know is that the idea of spending time looking at his poetry is not immediately appealing to some young people, particularly those who may be struggling with schoolwork or in pupil referral units. The genius of Developing Dylan therefore is the immersion of literature within other readily-accessible creative arts. And once a young person has been hooked by art (or music, or performance etc), then I think the challenge of poetry seems infinitely less daunting, and they can move on to explore the beauty of the words.

In my workshops I've collaborated with the poet Clare Potter and artist Matthew Britton. We’ve used art and visual activities to introduce, respond to and help remake carefully chosen works by Dylan Thomas, with some very impressive results. And there's a very good reason behind all this. Human beings are 'visually wired'; 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing, 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes and we can interpret a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. It only takes us 150 milliseconds for a symbol to be processes and 100 milliseconds to attach a meaning to it. Our rate of understanding for text with pictures is 95% compared to 70% for text alone, which is why translating words into images and back again can be so inspiring and revealing when looking at poetry. Importantly too, adding creative activity makes things easier to recall. We remember 80% of what we see and do, but only 20% of what we read, and a tiny 10% of what we hear.

So by joining word and image, my hope is that Developing Dylan has not only contributed to improving access and enjoyment of Dylan Thomas today, but also to creating a lasting legacy. I hope the young people will remember and return to his works throughout their lives, and have the courage to read, enjoy and respond to other literature in their own unique way. I, for one, have definitely been awed by the talent I've seen in all the schools and inspired by the artists I’ve worked with. Dylan Thomas has been revealed to me in a new light; I've even made my own artworks in response!
 
The Green Fuse
 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Step by Step Commission


 
A commission from start to finish...
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Art for Summer!

I will be showing new work in the gallery/ten Summer Exhibition which opens this week.

My new mini-paintings are of woodlands in and around Cardiff; favourite places I've explored whilst out running this summer.
 
Fforest Fawr 2

Paintings are acrylic with plant pigments, layered on resin and glass.

Visit gallery/ten for more details
Exhibition launch this Thursday 17th July 6 - 8pm

Open Monday to Friday 10 - 6pm
Saturday 10 - 5pm
Exhibition open until 30th August

gallery/ten is at 23 Windsor Place, Cardiff - Map
 

 
 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Halen Mon, Day 3

Friday. My final day with Halen Mon is drawing to a close. It's gorgeous here, and I'd love to stay. I have so many ideas for art, ranging from the semi functional to the more fantastical, but how best to progress? Between us we've decided to start with the practical and work from there.

Halen Mon is a functioning production site, with a soon-to-be built visitor centre on the way. This means the priority for artworks is to serve a function, whether through their placement so they subtly direct visitors, or decorate blank surfaces, or through their content so they educate and inform about the chemistry and production of salt.



I'm taking a massive collection of resources back to my studio, ranging from photos to watercolours to all sorts of items I've found and been given. These will form the inspiration from which I'll work. We've arranged to have a catch up online in a couple of weeks to recap, regroup and consider our progress, so although we're at opposite ends of the country we shouldn't lose too much momentum.

Another visit? Yes, that's on the cards for later on this year. By then both of us will have progressed and we should be able to recombine our ideas with physical elements on site.

 Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Halen Mon, Day 2

My second day at Halen Mon has been a day of finding connections and correlation.

There's the fascinating visual likeness between the mountains of Snowdonia visible across the Menai Straight, and the pyramid-like salt crystals produced from the Menai Straight water.



Then there's the intriguing similarity between the colours of the local countryside and coastline and those of the various Halen Mon salts.



And finally there's salt and art, linked together by chalk and gypsum. Chalk is used as a filler in paint and to prepare grounds for painting. Gypsum is crushed and dried to make plaster of paris. Both are formed when seawater evaporates and are by-products of the salt making process.



Seawater > gypsum + chalk > salt

Can this process be reversed somehow I wonder, and art made with all elements rejoined?

Chalk + gypsum + salt + water = ?

Tomorrow will be my 3rd day here before I head back to my studio in Cardiff. These have been a precious few days to me, almost like a mini residency, and have given me time and space to explore new surroundings and thrash out new thoughts and ideas. I can feel my practice developing in new directions which is very exciting, with new artworks begging to be made. However I mustn't lose site of one of my aims for this collaboration which is to work with Halen Mon to produce site responsive art which can also be displayed at this location. And to do this I must keep in mind the use of more robust materials too: slate, stone and perhaps transparent panels to call to mind the sea, water and scenery of this fantastic location. After today there are the makings of some great ideas on the table. Let's see how we can move them on.

Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Halen Mon, Day 1

My first day in Anglesey at Halen Mon has passed by in a blaze of glorious sunshine. As an artist trying to utilise the outcomes of science within my work, my primary aim for today was to discover just how Halen Mon crystallises the local seawater to make their salt flakes. I've been crystallising salts in my studio and they're incredible, but the crystal structure of Halen Mon salts are a in a class all of their own. Truly a thing of beauty.



I was first given an induction and shown the process of salt harvesting, beginning with the seawater filtered through mussel beds on the Menai Straights, through to the concentration of the brine, salt crystallisation, rinsing of the salt flakes, drying and packing. Who knew that so much goes in to producing salt! I've read somewhere that in the past salt was scarce and cost as much as gold, and seeing for myself the care that goes into producing salt crystals of this quality I can truly believe it.

What I've gathered is the pride that goes into harvesting this salt, and the extreme care that is taken to ensure each batch (and indeed each crystal) is perfect. I feel this theme will prove to be a vital part of the collaboration.

I also witnessed for myself the cloudy chalk that's released when salt is rinsed. This is new to me, and explains what the white residue is that I've seen around the edges of pans after boiling vegetables in salted water. Calcium carbonate is naturally found in seawater; organisms such as plankton, algae and molluscs all contribute, but it's considered an impurity in salt and so the more that's removed, the better. I love the fact that a by-product of salt crystallisation is chalk, a substance that I already use within my work..... Is there a way of reuniting the salt and chalk, I wonder?

The remainder of the day was spent taking photos of the area and drawing. Once again the theme of beauty resurfaces; the scenery here is glorious! And the colours! I feel it's perhaps more important to capture the colours rather than the overall forms; again I feel these may prove to be an important element within my work.

So after the first day I have lots of ideas and a brain full of stimuli, but everything is loose and unformed. Tonight will be spent thinking and assessing, and making a list for tomorrow. I hope too to have a good brainstorm with the directors David and Alison and start to steer things in some kind of a direction.



Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Art of Sea Salt Making

I'm delighted to discover my artwork featured on the Halen Mon blog, just prior to my trip to visit them in Anglesey tomorrow.
 

Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company.