New prints – finally!

I’ve finally got around to updating my Etsy shop with some new handcoloured screenprints. They’re based on the collage pieces, as you can see, but they’re signficantly more affordable! The hand colouring process keeps them unique, since they all come out a little bit different. And there are some exciting plans afoot on the printing front – more later…

In the meantime, here are the new prints on Etsy…

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The other Nicholson

We’ve just come back from a holiday in Cornwall with my good friend and fellow painter Debbie George (Bee), her husband Andrew Sanderson (a fabulous photographer), and our children (five between the two families). When Bee and I first met, she was just about to have their third child and was still running the wonderful Sanderson, George and Peach Gallery in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. While managing the gallery, juggling three young children, and keeping up with the house, she was also determinedly trying to keep up her painting practice. Bee was there literally moments after the birth of my first daughter, and along with many other things, she helped and encouraged me to figure out the demands of balancing motherhood and art. For Bee, that eventually meant giving up the Gallery, and although it isn’t easy her paintings are now flying out of the studio and onto people’s walls.

Whenever I spend time with Bee, we inevitably start talking about that balance, particularly in relation to some of our mutual influences, many of whom are female artists of the 20th century. In some cases, these women have succeeded through sheer bloody-mindedness. In others, they’ve never quite reached their full potential—the pull of the house, the children, or even simply the pressures of their own artist-husbands’ careers, proving too much. Helen Saunders, one of Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist crew, once noted that the marriage of two artists would inevitably end in the woman’s subordinating her art to the needs (and talent) of her husband. Well, I didn’t marry an artist (though he’s creative in different ways) and although Bee married an artistic photographer, their mutual support is inspirational. But I do wonder whether, unintentionally or not, female artists are always battling against the other roles that threaten to subordinate them; and it is simply a fact that of those artistic partnerships that spring to mind, in the majority of cases the household name in the UK at least will be the man rather than the woman. The art world has always been patriarchal, but there’s more to it than that.

Which brings me to the other Nicholson: Winifred. Winifred (Roberts) was Ben Nicholson’s first wife. They married in 1920, had three children, and divorced in 1938. That same year Nicholson married Barbara Hepworth, for whom he’d already left Winifred and the children in 1931. Ben and Hepworth had triplets in 1934, the year after she divorced her first husband, John Skeaping. Yes, I’ll admit, it is partly that vaguely incestuous kind of intrigue that draws me to groups like the St. Ives and Bloomsbury cliques! Anyway, Nicholson and Hepworth were friends with Piet Mondrian, who famously once told Nicholson that marriage and children spelt disaster for the artist (this was on the event of the marriage of their mutual friend Jean H). Winifred has been one of the biggest influences on my painting for over a decade. She had a pretty big impact on Ben, too, as far as I can tell, who regarded her work highly and her criticism of his work even more so. Winifred joined the Seven and Five Society the year after Ben; her work was incredibly diverse and often very challenging; her landscapes, in particular, are wonderful and, in my opinion every bit as good as Ben’s. But of the two of them, Ben is the one with all the major accolades. There are all sorts of reasons for this, aren’t there, and maybe I just have to accept that despite my love for Winifred’s work (and don’t get me wrong, I love Ben’s work too) Ben was the more important painter. But I do think Winifred was both talented and important enough (she wrote wonderfully, too) to be more of a household name than she is. Could it be that she was simply eclipsed by virtue of being Ben’s first (and less successful) wife? When they divorced, she carried on working, first in Paris and later in Yorkshire, but she had the kids, of course, and there’s a juggling act that can’t be underestimated. And it’s no simple equation – studio time doesn’t mean all that much if head-space is limited…

There are plenty of others in a similar position – including women who have had substantial success, but who seem to have chosen, quite deliberately, to subordinate their art to their husband’s or lover’s: Tirzah (Garwood) Ravilious is one that particularly saddens me. Prior to her marriage to Eric she proved herself to be an exceptionally talented wood engraver; after marriage, she engraved no more. See this wonderful blog post by Neil at Adventures in the Print Trade for more); and I could go on, of course – Elaine de Kooning; Margaret Macdonald (Charles Rennie Macintosh); Sophie Taeuber (Hans Arp)….

Naturally, there are exceptions. Vanessa Bell, for instance, is probably better known than her writer-husband Clive Bell and at least as well known as her long-term companion the painter Duncan Grant. With help, she also seems to have been a good mother to Angelica, Quentin and Julian (okay, excepting the revelations about A’s paternity that clouded her early teenage years…). Further afield, Georgia O’Keefe matched Alfred Stieglitz’s fame (no children). There were a lot of women (and husband-wife teams) in the Russian avant-garde movement: Natalia Goncharova, lifelong partner of Mikhail Larionov, was hugely influential (but again, no children). We can’t forget Frida Kahlo, of course, although the struggles she faced are infamous and arguably form part of her cache. Back closer to home, there’s Mary Fedden, who is still painting in her mid 90s, has probably been as successful (though still possibly not as famous) as her husband Julian Trevelyan. Outliving him for 23 years and counting can’t hurt! And, conceding that I sound like a broken record, she had no children. Hepworth herself, of course, achieved acclaim and success at a pretty similar level to Ben, although her well-documented single-mindedness is exceptional. She was able (both psychologically and practically) to put her art first. Her daughter Rachel Nicholson, for instance, remembers that “my mother on the whole really only, as far as I can recall, emerged [from the studio] for meals, and a day or two at Christmas”!

I live in hope, though, that the juggling exercise is possible, as it appears to have been for my favourite, Mary Newcomb, whose younger daughter Tessa is also a superb painter. This post might seem like a complaint. It’s not intended to be – I have no regrets about becoming a mother/wife/artist/gardener/dogwalker/cat-cleaner/woman-of-myriad-distractions. Both my daughters are artistic and I love spending time with them in the studio. I can put up with my husband (although he’s a classic example of someone who’s capable of putting work first!) and I know it’s a massive luxury to be able to do what I do, housework or not. But it is one of the material realities of the artworld that we rarely consider when we’re wandering around the archive, wondering where all the women went…

Afterword

I’ve never really thought of myself as a feminist—and I still don’t—but I started singing with a couple of other ladies about a year ago. We perform mainly old English folk songs and we were tickled when we noticed that our repertoire consists largely of songs by and about feisty women who don’t have much truck with the patriarchy. I feel a song coming on!

[The above images are all sourced from http://www.studiointernational.co.uk and are copyright the Trustees of Winifred Nicholson]

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Pod Press Badges!

My friend Ruby Green (illustrator) and I have been doing a bit of lino-printing and are aiming to bring out a range of cards and textile items at some point. In the meantime, I’ve been playing around with a recent purchase we made – a badge maker! Here are the first of many designs to come.

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These can be bought currently from my Etsy shop, or you can order directly through this blog. Selections will be random unless you specify a particular motif/background or combination. Prices are: £3 for 2 for the larger ones (58mm) and £4 for 4 for the smaller (38mm) + 75pence p&p. Although motifs are repeated every badge is unique.

Backgrounds for the badges are generally found/”scrap” paper (in inverted commas, because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as scrap paper – it can always be used for something), such as maps, old diaries, even old bits of paintings. These are then drawn on, collaged, or printed (or, if they’re interesting enough, left just as they are). The badges themselves have an aluminium body with a durable plastic backing with integral pin (it can’t fall out!). I will take commissions on map badges – if you want badges of your hometown, for instance – but you may have to bear with me while I locate a suitable map!!

We’re interested in doing bespoke printed badges to order too – so any requests, get your orders in early (prices on application)…

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1st Edition!


The printing has been going very well and yes, it’s done, my first screenprint, in a limited edition of 20! This is the first in a series of pieces that will have a very loose narrative. They’re available unframed for £40 + p&p via my etsy shop, or direct from me (just email me).

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New Ventures

Screen-printing – it’s the way forward! And now, thanks to Suki and Karen at The Print Block in Whitstable it’s not only available to hand, but it’s been thoroughly demystified for me! I managed to avoid the print room for years at college and have regretted it ever since. Finally, I’ve rectified that oversight and it’s very exciting. More to follow in due course…

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Shabby shabby

“I remembered our shared delight in architecture and nature
As bicycling we went
By saffron-spotted palings to crumbling box-pewed churches
Down hazel lanes in Kent.”

John Betjeman, ‘The Commander’

My husband insists I’d have got on with John Betjeman, and it’s not because of a shared despair of Slough (though I sympathise). I guess it’s in part his often-justified hatred of myopic town planners, and perhaps a sense that often we ‘improve’ things that don’t really need improving! Betjeman wasn’t particularly sentimental or even nostalgic about the past – he just recognised good design. I don’t pretend to be knowledgeable about design, but some things just seem so obvious: there’s a brilliant short video of Betjeman talking about Georgian/Victorian Bath on youtube. Fast forward to about 4.55 and watch the next 25 seconds or so, taking particular note of 5.05-5.16. Is he wrong? He isn’t, is he? Now look around you, at the numbers of houses that have been ‘improved’ in the same way.

This is a borderline rant, isn’t it! I set out to write a post about our house, actually. It’s a very modest (some might say ugly) semi-detached house built to no particular architectural agenda in 1922. It has the virtue of being one of the first pebble-dashed houses in Deal. Mmm, pebble-dash. It has a nice set of asbestos cement rooftiles too. Yum. I used to drive past this house before we bought it. It was empty and clearly deteriorating and I knew, just knew, that because it still had its original windows, doors (and roof, as worrying as it is) it would be perfect inside – and for me, the interior quality is every bit as important as that outward proportion. When it came on the market I persuaded my husband to go and look at it with me. He can be an immovable object, so by the time I’d convinced him, it was under offer. That sale fell through, and when it came back on I was down there like a shot, dragging D by his beard. It had been owned by an elderly lady (only the second owner) – a very eccentric elderly lady, as it turned out – and had been derelict for the four years after her death. I knew it would be untampered with, you see, and that is a real rarity. I know that people will always want to make their mark, but it upsets me that so many people do so much stuff to so many old houses (why don’t they buy new ones?!). And so much of it in the name of (cue estate agent speak) ‘adding value’. It really really depends how you look at it, doesn’t it?

Anyway. As the estate agent followed me around the house… erm, I mean showed me around the house, insistently telling me that the 1920s tiles in the living room fireplace weren’t, in fact, 1920s tiles, I couldn’t help myself. With my husband’s warning to ‘play it cool’ ringing in my ears, I started squealing at every little thing that spelt ‘unsaleable’ to the EA and ‘heaven’ to me. That included the bakelite door handles (somebody, alas, had already removed the bakelite doorplates – don’t worry, though, we’re replacing them one by one!); the original hardwood sash windows (only one coat of paint in 90 years and, to date, only one of them has had to have any work done on rot – they’re painting up a treat); original fireplaces in every room (barring one very sweet ’50s replacement); original fitted cupboards in most rooms (real wood!); a utilitarian fitted dresser in an otherwise unfurnished kitchen; and – the proverbial cherry – the original 1920s wallpaper in the dining room. It was in the bathroom that I knew we were going to buy the house. It was when the EA looked at my husband and suggested that one could rip out the wall-to-wall ceiling-to-floor built-in cupboards and relocate the bathroom to the box-room, making this a bigger third bedroom. Apparently one could add value. D got a look in his eye that I read as ‘over my dead body’…

So here we are. A little curious scratching and we found the original 20s wallpaper in one of the bedrooms too. Sure, there was damp – we had to pull out and completely rebuild the rotten staircase, for instance – but once the roof was mended and we put in central heating (yes, there’s always a compromise – but we were able to avoid those nasty modern white radiators. Why is white the default colour of modern appliances?) the house dried out nicely. It wasn’t all there, of course. Most of the original wallpaper had been painted over, but we are gradually replacing it with reproduction papers (we’ve tried sourcing the real thing, but someone with £ signs in their eyes beat us to it). There were these horrible white plastic boxes everywhere that switched on horrible white plastic lights all over the show. We’d been collecting porcelain light fittings for years, though, and it’s amazing how much bakelite you can find on ebay… there’s a fine line, of course, between liking old stuff (as I keep telling my father in law, it’s an aesthetic thing, a tactile thing, an emotional thing) and fetishizing the past. But I think we’re treading it – not in any refined way – and certainly not expensively – but with genuine, bona fide OLD stuff. We concede that we’re totally mad – my father in law, who grew up with grotty wallpaper, few mod cons, and bakelite undershirts, will never understand – but there was just something about this house that made us want to let it dictate how we would live in it, not the other way around. So, no fuss, no finesse, and certainly no shabby chic: we’re settling for shabby shabby! Somehow, I think we’ve gone one step further than JB…

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Where to begin?

Well, since this is intended as a way to help me think in more structured terms about my practise as a painter and printmaker (rather than just wandering in to my studio and forgetting the world), I’m going to start this blog with an introduction to my studio and its environs. I’ve always been drawn to artists who paint the way they see the world — with honesty and faithfulness to their own vision (in every sense). For that process to work, for me, my environment is paramount. In the second year of my degree my cohort was moved into a city-centre studio space – a great studio, but a long way from the countryside that has always been the source of my work: I paint organic things, forms, shapes, objects: I can’t live without green! I spent a miserable year weaving and knitting wooly hats – anything but painting; it made me realise one thing – that wherever I am, the space I work in, and the space around it will always be reflected in my work. In fact, in my ability to work.

So first, my studio.

I studied fine art at Bretton Hall (before it became part of the University of Leeds, who seem to have milked the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park site for all they could get). Straight after leaving I acquired a very functional studio in Bingley, North Yorkshire. We lived on a narrowboat at the time and my husband was studying at the University of Leeds, so this suited us – it was big, cheap, and very very industrial. A far cry from YSP! After about a year, though, we were enticed to Holmfirth by the fabulous Debbie George, whose beautiful gallery Sanderson George and Peach was still open. We bought a place (literally) under the gallery and I rented a big, gorgeous studio from Bee. My husband’s job, though, brought us to Kent in 2004. In our first house we built a shed at the end of the garden, but then we moved to a ’20s house, virtually untouched by the modern predeliction for plastic (or central heating or fitted kitchens for that matter), and we built a wooden lean-to on the back of the house. After 18 months of squish, I finally booted hubbie out this year (he has a cubby-hole desk on the landing now, what more can he want?) and there you have it – this is ‘home’!

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I’ve always been a gardener and am deeply affected by what’s around me, so although the house is falling down around our ears (literally in some cases – our first meal here we sat listening as panes of glass fell out of the porch!) we have concentrated on the garden. I tend to grow things I like to paint and paint things I like to grow. Don’t be surprised if there are a number of future posts about the garden… and the house – they’ve both been such major projects!

So this is where we are: a village-like appendage to Deal, a seaside town in East Kent, with one foot still in the past. Those that know me know that I’ve been keeping a low profile in recent years due to ill health, but that’s changing now (hence this blog). I’m back painting, and am also making collage pieces and prints. I’ve started a little printing business called Pod Press with my friend Ruby Green and we’re making badges, lino-cut prints and cards, and are printing on fabric. There’ll be more posts about Pod Press in the future, but to see more of my recent work, visit my website: www.joaylward.co.uk

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