Fascinating and helpful conversations during Open Studio Week 2018
Cornwall Open Studio Week this year proved especially helpful to me for some of the conversations I had with visitors about my future plans. Some of you were part of those dialogues and I want to thank you for the clarification they brought me. In some cases it was about the pieces I’ll be showing in my September Bodmin Shire Hall exhibition ‘REPRIEVE’, about how particular canvases relate to specific points in my ongoing experience of battling cancer. So, most of the image links below take you to a page about the collection for that planned exhibition.
However, the last two shots on this page, also picture links, relate to conversations about my planned reconstruction of the Dome of Human Kindness, an ambitious mural project originally from my student years in Italy. In this case those two additional photos show the front and back of the first triangular canvas to be re-stretched for this project, painted in translucent layers on its marine plywood backing during Open Studio Week. These two photos are picture links that take you to pages explaining their context in the plan. There are seventeen more panels to be developed in this way so expect further postings about this over the coming months. For the story of how the original mural came into being in 1972 click HERE for an earlier blog post about it.
Among the conversations I had during the recent Open Studio Week on the topic of my dome reconstruction was one that came from an extraordinary re-encounter with a gentleman who had been studio demonstrator on the first two years of my Fine Art degree course at Newcastle some fifty years ago and who sought me out on this occasion. How satisfying it was to explain my current obsession about this project to a man who had done so much to encourage me to explore what I think of as such ’off the wall’ schemes all those years ago.
His partner’s insightful comments and appreciation were also invaluable to me. Conversations with friends about the thinking behind the development of this project in particular can be very clarifying for me. You might like to enter into such a conversation with me online through commenting on this post or by commenting about posts on one of the two art Facebook pages that I run. These are at: https://www.facebook.com/artoftomhendersonsmith/ and https://www.facebook.com/rebuildingthedome/ .
I had recently been invited to give my third painting demonstration to members of Newquay Art Society, the last one having been some four years ago. I knew that I had to use a theme that would sit well within the collection I’m putting together for a forthcoming exhibition and that, having ’blocked-in’ the composition in front of these aspiring artists, I would want to develop it further back at my studio. Trawling through the archive of my own digital reference materials I came across shots I took a few years ago that seemed to provide a promising starting point. It was during a summer afternoon visit to the cliffs at Bedruthan Steps. I had been recording the forms of the spectacular coast and sea when I recall that a clap of thunder made me turn around towards the National Trust café there. I remember thinking at the time that the mass of cloud above and the rooftop forms of the buildings below provided an image of the kind of identity and difference that fascinates me. Re-discovering this recently, it seemed to me to ’fit the bill’ well. I knew I could explain about my interest in how the illuminated cloud mass was for me in some ways similar to, in others very different from, the roof structures below. I knew that ’lively greys’ suggested by billowing cloud forms could take centre-stage between these two areas of the painting so that is what I used to enliven what could otherwise have been a characterless part of the composition.
Silvery cloud above winter trees ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/silvery-cloud-above-winter-trees/ ) arose from my response to colour interactions on a bright wintry afternoon near my studio here in Mid Cornwall as I walked with my dear elderly collie ‘Rags‘. The joyful clarity of most of the sky above this hillside meadow, adorned with leafless trees and illuminated by the glow of the gradually sinking sun, seemed at first marred by the cloud forms moving across it. Then I realised what was going on and that it could be brought out through the process of painting. I always strive for what a college tutor of mine used to call ’lively greys’, finding ways to achieve them optically and sometimes by mixtures other than those of white and black. The cloud bank here provided an opportunity to place such greys in relation to the cool brightness of the open sky, the sombre warmth of winter trees and the earthy golden greens of a foreground field. There it could hang suspended, warmer than the azure blue, cooler than the earthy hues beneath, enigmatic and intriguing.
This post refers to plans to re-construct my ‘Of Human Kindness’ dome that dates from 1972. Click HERE to see a visualisation of the structure.
On 27th March 2018 I collected the first re-stretched triangular canvas of the 18 that will make up the reconstructed dome. This can be seen in the background of one of these shots. This is part of a ‘pilot’ study for the whole project so that I can work out all the costs prior to the start of a ‘crowdfunding’ scheme once I have clearance from the owners of the intended site (expected in June or July 2018). It’s a historic moment for me.
The approx 1/5th MDF scale model on the table in the foreground is to enable the angles of the bevelled edges of each panel to be worked out.
Darren of T.P. Timber has been explaining the need for the model to calculate all the angles for the bevels. I wanted to include him in the shot to show the scale of the approx 1/5th scale model.
Each of these paintings, like all the others currently intended for this exhibition is currently available at a 30% pre-exhibition discount that will continue just until the end of April. You can see them all so far at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product-tag/reprieve-exhibition/ . A proportion of the proceeds of these sales will be donated to a cause that I support, in most cases to Reprieve ( https://reprieve.org.uk/topic/death-penalty/ ), a charity that campaigns against the death penalty that still exists in some parts of the world. It occurred to me that there is a poignancy about showing this particular collection at Bodmin Shire Hall, a former court-house where people have been condemned to death in the past and I want to acknowledge that by this donation.
Every new year, for me, starts with resolutions often linked to initial plans for projects. This year an artistic project on my horizon is a September 2018 exhibition at Bodmin Shire Hall. This will be my fourth show to be held there and the first since my recovery from the serious illness that dominated 2017 for me. Emerging from the shadow of cancer into a time of hope has already defined for me a central theme, that of reprieve, of being spared. The upcoming exhibition will no doubt revolve around wanting to communicate the joy of that experience in one way or another.
The collection will no doubt evolve over the next few months as new pieces are added and others perhaps are removed. All will be new since the last show I held at the Shire Hall in 2016. Here are some brief thoughts about two recent additions and links to their pages on my recently re-launched website:
Winter oak among houses and Houses among trees are both winter solstice light paintings inspired by aspects of my immediate neighbourhood here in St Columb Major in Cornwall.
As so often in my work it is the interaction of varied colours that is my true medium of expression, hopefully telling you something of the refreshed sense of wonder that is accompanying my recovery, my reprieve.
Both paintings are available at a 30% pre-exhibition discount until April. Click images or text links above for further details.
A major event in my artistic life recently has been the re-launch of my website using WordPress, a much more sophisticated content management system than the one I used before. This involves a more direct and simpler presentation that gives prominence to the paintings and drawings without the presence of distracting decorative elements. There are also many improvements in functionality.
For example you can now browse images by such aspects as the year in which they were made or thematic elements like the inclusion of boats, references to seasons of the year etc. The most reliable way to do this is by clicking on one of the words or numbers listed in the Tags list that appears below the Category at lower right of each image page as shown here.
You can also try using the search facility at top right of each page. (Some tag names seem to work better there than others bearing in mind that such searches cover more than just the tags).
Another feature of the new website is the improved handling of images themselves. Hovering over the full frame image on a page may well give you a more close up view depending on the digital resolution of the uploaded photo that I currently have in place for that image. At the moment the most recent work shows this best, for example see https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/goosewing/ as well as https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/cornish-wrestling/and https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/confronting-beast-lafrowda-2017/ . In each case you will notice a + sign at top right of the image as well. Clicking on this gives you a larger view of the whole thing and you may even be able to enlarge this to your screen size further using another + sign at top right of the resulting pop-up. Clicking on the black surround returns you to the page containing all the information about that piece as well as the links to other pages.
Another feature to be found initially on pages about original paintings still available is a view-in-room image which you can access by clicking its thumbnail below the main picture. This means that you no longer have to visit the painting’s page on Artstack to see such a visualisation.
To keep this brief I am not here going to write about the personal symbolism for me of each of the three new paintings whose images you can reach through the links above. Suffice to say that all three spring from my response as an artist to aspects of my current fight with cancer and that further descriptions will appear on their image pages in due course; that too is a useful feature of the new content management system that I intend to make full use of as my website continues to grow.
I’ve arrived at the decision to make 2017 the year of my final Lafrowda Festival Benefit Painting Auction. My reason for this is that a new tradition here in St Columb Major is being launched and I want to support it in a similar way. More than three years after our move here from St Just, home of the Lafrowda Festival, my wife Gabrielle and I are now involved in launching the Our Town St Columb Major Arts and Heritage Project ( https://www.facebook.com/ourtownstcolumb/?view_public_for=150213532127194 ) that aims to support cultural regeneration in this central Cornish community. The project’s first festival is due to take place in August 2017.
That virtual tour itself records the exhibition that the Lafrowda Festival organisers asked me to put on at Cape Cornwall School in St Just in 2012. I subsequently added four more to the collection and each July since our move in 2013 has seen me back in St Just to soak up the excitement of Lafrowda once again. I’m so pleased that other artists still based in St Just have now started to do something similar for Lafrowda and I very much hope that the tradition of supporting that festival will long continue in this way without me. Incidentally, prints of all those earlier Lafrowda paintings can be purchased by following relevant links on their image pages on my website. I’ll continue to donate proceeds from all such sales to Lafrowda Festival.
A trip to London in September 2016 was an inspiration for me in an unexpected way. Naturally the exhibitions I had seen in the capital were stimulating as was the metropolitan environment, so different from Cornwall. In the end however it was a relief to be on the way home and it was pleasant to relax for a while at Paddington Station before catching a late afternoon train to the far west. It was during this ’chill-out time’ that I came to the surprising realisation that Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineered girders that make up the station’s overhead canopy could provide my next starting point for a painting and the sweeping arcs of this canopy with light playing through its glass roof-panels were to prove a pleasure to paint once I was back in Cornwall. It was a theme that seemed to demand a soaring vertical format and resolved itself as a kind of colour-chord of rusty reds, sky blues, neutral mixed greys and whites.
In creating the painting I call Sailing home ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/sailing-home/ ) I came to realise that, although the image had come from a recent walk along the banks of the Camel Estuary, what in fact resonated for me here were memories of boyhood holidays along the South Devon coast; my brother and I half living, half imagining Swallows and Amazons type adventures* as our parents and younger sisters looked on from the nearby shore. Here again it was lingering over colour and form that brought this resonance to mind. I’ve aimed to embody my enjoyment of such resonances in the way I’ve painted these pieces. Of course viewers aren’t going to know about such personal references unless, like yourselves they’ve been informed about them. Nevertheless I’m confident that, as long as I can bring my sense of joy into making each painting, people will be able to bring in their own associations to enrich their viewing.