ART CREATES ITS OWN SPACE
by Norman Warwick
Our cover photograph, above shows the grandeur and elegance of The Lanzarote Art Gallery, about which we will speak later. However, I interviewed Lanzarote based artist, Sigrid Braun-Umbach and saw some of her work, in a very different, more humble, setting. We talked comfortably for around forty five minutes, secure in a shared love of Art. I had spent the morning searching google maps to find a route to a this venue that isn´t a ´´´ gallery´ and which I had never heard of before, and had then decided to check out more about the artist on my search engines. However, an e mail pinged in before I could even begin,…..
So there I was, shaping my ´compare and contrast notes on ´art galleries´ on Lanzarote, when a post came in from my friend and former business partner, Steve Cooke (left), about a high profile exhibition being shown in one of my favourite art spaces, Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre in Rochdale in the UK.
I regularly worked as a freelance artist as part of that venue´s education outreach programme and facilitated the Touchstones Creative Writing Group, for adult aspíring writers, and so have fond memories of the place. Now poet and writer Seamus Kelly (right) , another old friend, was writing on the all across the arts page in The Rochdale Observer that the venue has recently hosted ´The Vanity Of Small Differences´ exhibition of tapestries by Grayson Perry.
To complement that, there has even been a Virtual Audience event with Grayson held at the nearby Falinge Park High School (FPHS), another place I visited many times as a peripatetic artist, with excellent teachers like Muriel Gott and Simon De Courcey. The Virtual Audience With gave local people the opportunity to listen to the artist. The gathering was hosted by two students, Isra and Aliah, and Seamus Kelly reports that they did so with great confidence.
Grayson Perry CBERA (born 24 March 1960) is an English contemporary artist, writer and broadcaster. He is known for his ceramic vases, tapestries and cross-dressing, as well as his observations of the contemporary arts scene, and for dissecting British ´prejudices, fashions and foibles´. Having won a Turner prize in 2003, Grayson Perry has since become extremely well known, and during covid lockdowns he appeared regularly on tv in the UK with his series, Art Club. At FPHS he appeared on a large screen to speak of how his series of artworks about class and taste came about.
He explained that in the nineteenth century Art was largely the preserve of gentlemen painters, and very much an upper middle class intellectual pursuit Perry has spent his career seeking to democratise Art.
´ In Art everyone´s opinion is valid ´, he told the audience at FPHS.
Influences for the work included in The Vanity Of Small Differences were taken from The Rake´s Progress by Hogarth, and contained many renaissance religious paintings as reference points.
Having heard Perry´s stories behind each of his exhibited tapestries the audience then had the opportunity to ask questions. He was first asked whether, in today´s climate, Art retains its power to change the way people think.
Perry believes it does, especially if it can reach huge audiences through tv and other media, though he admitted the impact might be lessened with some art forms such as ceramics and tapestries.
´Í set out to make Art, because I liked making it. I never set out to make Art to try to influence people´, he said, but was then asked about the exclusion of Art from school curriculum.
¨That is a tragedy. Art help`s you to live a good life´, he responded and as Chancellor Of the University Of The Arts the topic is obviously important to him. Asked if it would be worth living in a world or a society without Art he relied simply that ´the short answer is NO !´
When expanding on that answer he spoke of the primal importance of Art, and of how even in the most primitive of societies people were allowed to spend time and that in itself revealed the importance of Art and what an essential part Art plays in telling our stories.
The way to attract more young people to become involved in the Arts, Grayson believes is rooted in ´having some empathy for the audience, including for young people, but that doesn’t mean dumbing down to the point where people get bored.
Reporter, Seamus Kelly, concluded that Grayson Perry had certainly displayed an empathy with this ´remote´ Rochdale audience, who left filled with inspiration and enthusiasm, and if the audience went out and shared that with others, reckoned Seamus, the event will have proved a resounding success.
Grayson finished his talk by urging the students to ´engage with Art, but remember you don´t have to like it all´.
I kept those words in mind when visiting exhibiting artist Sigrid Braun-Umbach (right) at Centro antroposofico in Puerto del Carmen. The exhibition ran from Saturday 9th of October and lasts until Sunday, 17th.
I would have visited this exhibition anyway, but today I was on a double mission. Because I had been asked by my ´boss, Miguel, to cover the event for Lanzarote Information I would also be able to use it as a bridge between The Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre in Rochdale and The Lanzarote Art Gallery here on the island.
What I found here was a delightful collection of paintings, small ceramics, drawings, photos and printmaking from the Lanzarote based artist, with some works being available to purchase on the day. This collection of eclectic work by Sigrid certainly proved that whoever its neighbours are, and wherever it is shown Art of this quality will always make space for itself and ensure it is seen and heard.
I love it when Art can speak for itself, and was therefore even more delighted when Sigrid was willing to speak for herself, as the artist, to help readers follow their art over sidetracks and detours around her multi- media creations.
Sigrid and me We had heard art speak for itself from Touchstones, so we were delighted when Sigrid the artist here was also willing to speak for herself, to help you follow your art over sidetracks and detours around multi- media creations.
Sigrid Braum-Umbach says that although she has a large catalogue of the last fifteen years of her work it is not entirely comprised of reflection of Lanzarote. as she lives here for only half the year, spending six months of every twelve in her native Germany
Today we were at Centro de Terapia Antroposofica, and much of the work on show in this unprepossessing community room was cross-disciplinary and multi-media in a style reflecting, I came to learn when speaking to her, not only the artist´s love of Art, but also of Art´ s creative processes ,
I asked Sigrid whether she identifies her route from A to Z before she begins a piece of work, or whether she simply follows sidetracks & detours along the way before arriving at Z.
´It differs´, she responded. ´Its really different. When I make a picture with acrylic colours I pretty much know where I am going beforehand, but if I am working with watercolour, let´s say, it is different. Sometimes I know what is happening, but at other times I am playing with the colours, and looking at what the colours do. It is difficult to say which approach is the most rewarding. Sometimes I create what I see at the time, but at others I see things in my head and what I see will stay in my head and I can recreate them two, three or ten years later´.
I am fascinated by the notion that a work can be created in the mind and then lay dormant for many years before being brought to life. That has happened to me with passages of text or poetry but I always worry that somehow ´the meaning´ might have been changed in the lengthy thinking period by my changed perceptions gathered in that period.
I therefore asked Sigrid if she thinks the work she holds in her mind might change before she produces it (see below).
´It will change if I want it to´, she laughs. ´I can always work on different versions in the future. Sometimes my memories inform the art I am seeking to create and sometimes the art I create informs my memoires and that is true of all artists I guess. Like Every artist. I like to employ art to show people what nature is really like. I paint nature, because nature belongs to us. Therefore, I never paint people and that again might be true of a lot of artists. But whilst I am happy to be on my own I also like the company of other people and I am a member of an Art Association and enjoy taking and working with other artists. In fact I take part in street-action arts in Central Berlin. This year we held planned events at The University Of Joseph Boyce. We planted things to increase the bee population and improve the quality of the honey. I also take part in the Documenta event that is held every five years in Germany. In 1982 they created an initiative that saw the planting of 7,000 oak trees and Joseph Boyce dedicated a stone of basalt to each tree. I have an oak tree of my own which is laid in lava. Documenta is very effective.´
I was reminded of my own life as a community artist in the UK and I told Sigrid that my local government would often fund local initiatives commissioning local artists to create an arts intervention to change perceptions or to address local issues. I was too precious about that, I think now, and worried too much about whether I should satisfy the artistic desires of those I was working with, or the tick-box requirements of those I was working for. Sigrid made light of my fears, saying that artists can only reflect what they see.
We started this article by talking about the comparisons and contrasts we often note between venues and how the art still manages to create its own space within venues big and small and humble and grand. I wondered therefore how Sigrid had selected the works (right) she thought would impact in this environment. Some pieces are simply laid on a flat work surface, some hung on a long stretch of interior wall and others are propped up in various nooks and corners that somehow give the room itself a character it might otherwise lack.
´Presentation, and the decision-making that comes before exhibiting is all part of the artistic process´, Sigrid informed me. ´It helps that I am very familiar with this room having studied and worked and taught here three or four time a week for around twelve years We have another, bigger salon here on this complex, but I like the light in this room. It serves well, I think, as a workshop room for artists as well as an exhibition room.
´ ´I hope I drive my art´, she replies when I then ask whether she drives her art or her art drives her. ´´ ´´I hope so. I´ve been doing this all my life´.
But does that mean she is quite comfortable in laying her pencil or brush down knowing she will pick it up again when the time is right?
´Ýes, I can do that,… in fact sometimes it is not possible to lift the pencil. My work is quite diverse, I might be writing books, writing poetry I very much like the Japanese haiku. Sometimes haiku* can take hours and hours of contemplation to either read or write. I can also spend hours and hours collating an exhibition of my work like this one. Because I work across the disciplines employing multi-media techniques, I like my exhibitions to simply address one theme. Whether the exhibition includes water colours and acrylics and other textures I like the theme to be the sea, or the mountains or the woods.
Haiku, of course, is an important art form to me as a poet and I was commissioned with my writing partner Pam Mckee, as ´ Just Poets´ sometime back in the early two thousands by the aforementioned Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre, in Rochdale, to write a haiku to outline the history of our cotton mill town. They then also commissioned a wonderful lettering artist named Stephen Raw, who created the work that hung in the gallery (left) for nearly a decade
Stephen Raw was born in 1952 in London but has lived in Manchester for the last 40-plus years. He has been a textual artist and designer since his return to Britain after two years teaching at the National Arts School in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Stephen’s work is varied, from paintings in exhibitions, to cover designs and his commercial lettering for a variety of clients, including leading publishers, architects and design groups throughout Europe.
‘Fundamental to all my artwork,’ says Stephen (right) , ‘is a love of language and how that language is given a visual dimension through signs we simply call letters: never-failing sources of inspiration. Letters are images in themselves and, for me, that’s more than enough to be getting on with.’ Collaborations with the previous Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, have led to all sorts of commissions during her tenure.
Since 2017, Stephen has been the Artist-in-Residence at Manchester Cathedral.
Wordsworth (who is, I explained to Sigrid, Britain´s favourite poet, second only to me) once said that ´Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity.´ That seems suddenly very apt when I think again of Sigrid holding pictures in her head for years sometimes, before constructing them into art forms.
´We studied Wordsworth in school´, she smiled. ´That is an interesting quote isn´t it? Sometimes I work on a piece and suddenly realise it isn´t quite working, but I can´t change whatever needs to be changed in that moment. So I leave it, sometimes for months and sometimes for years. Then when I go back to it I can start again.
As for my ownership of my work I always feel that the moment that I place a piece in an exhibition so can give it away. In some ways it is no longer mine. However, there are some pictures in my apartment here in Lanzarote, and my house in Berlin, that I wouldn´t release, that I wouldn´t give away. Sometimes, if somebody asks me to include such a piece in an exhibition I will only do so if I can stick a red point beside it !
I came here in 1994 and when I came here I was immediately at home. And I was looking for a house or a flat here for many years, and then suddenly our house found us ! The landscape here is harsh, as you say, and sometimes I feel as if I am living here in the beginning of the world. And when I look at what has happened, is still happening in La Palma, I think it will end up a lot like Lanzarote. I like living here, though. I might not be part of a Spanish arts community but I have many Spanish friends I like this neighbourhood. I feel lucky to be here. This community holds regular music events, arts exhibitions and workshops and there are a number of good restaurants in the area as well. And there is a hotel here, which has its own little shop as well,
The purpose of the exhibition is simply to place my work on a platform where people can see it. It is good that Miguel has placed detail in his weekly Lanzarote Information newsletter and that you are here on his behalf. This is all part of an artist´s life and my working days can be very different. Sometimes I´m working night and day and sometimes I´m thinking night and day about my work, and that is hard too ! Sometimes it is so hard I cannot get to sleep. because I am thinking about what can I do with that picture. How can I express what I mean? Which colours should I use.?
That seemed a good time to employ the final question I always ask of artists I am interviewing for the first time, about whether they work to explore or work to explain.
¨What a question! To explore, I think. Every day I am learning new things and seeing all the things I have ever seen, but with new eyes´.
Sigrid´ s exhibition has been collated form a large catalogue of the last fifteen years of her work but is not entirely comprised of reflection of Lanzarote as she lives here for only half the year, spending six months of every twelve in her native Germany. There is no wonder, perhaps, that her art is so diverse, so though provoking and so engaged with our planet.
The exhibition room might not have been a space of the splendour of The Lanzarote Art Gallery, with its appropriate lighting, spacious walkways and places on the walls that permit both viewing from a distance and close enough to enable a more forensic examination. However, this room t had its charm, and it was comfortably housing an exhibition that most impressed me with tricks Sigrid played with the light and shade in her paintings and photographs, with some of woodland scenes that reminded of those Victorian ´pictures´ of fairies at the bottom of the garden,….secret and shadowy and hushed and awed in the wonder of nature.
One of the most interesting aspects of The (aforementioned) Lanzarote Art Gallery (left) and its owner, Eduardo Fariña, however, is an on-line exhibition hall that recreates the experience of physical space.
´We try to make you see all the details of our gallery in a 3D virtual space´. they tell us. ´From the armchair of your house you can buy art, see prices and also what the artists think of their works, along with the opinions of art critics.
This new ´development was generated by Eduardo Fariña and The Lanzarote Art Gallery in order to provide an online promotion platform to artists of different nationalities, to reach buyers, art lovers and collectors.
It is not the only initiative taken to place this small but dynamic and elegant gallery on the world arts map.
For instance, Eduardo, who is not only the owner of the gallery, but is also an art collector himself, was pleased to invite patrons on Saturday, October 16th to the opening of a Forum on past and present in the creative context of the arts.
Lanzarote Memory And Identity, was born with the will to offer meeting spaces in which to consider the relationship of heritage with the plastic arts, since from their link the intrinsic relationship between the two is born. Considering cultural heritage and the plastic arts as an empowering key is essential to revalue and enhance the economy of a place.
This forum is the gateway that allows the arts to relate in the territory and with the cultural heritage of the islands and specifically of Lanzarote. This diverse source, despite its fragility, allows us to share the inherited artistic expressions with a source of inspiration for creativity and innovation that generate new contemporary cultural products. The relationship between past and present (a phrase that actually reminds me that work I had recently seen a community room in Puerto Del Carmen, presented by Sigrid), allows us today to build and revalue the inherited arts.
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So, it has been a week concentrated on visual arts, created by a diversity of artists and shown in a variety of settings. From an Arts And Heritage Centre, and a local High School in the UK to a community room and an Art gallery here on Lanzarote we have found Touchstones all along the sidetracks & detours to remind us that whether Art be ephemeral or intended for light years of travel it will always find the space to make itself seen and heard.
Grayson Perry´s work zoomed in on a television feed, the works at The Lanzarote Art Gallery are brightly lit on pedestals or exquisitely hung.
Sigrid´ ´s works were propped up against the wall or laid on desk tops but they stood up to be counted, too, and they shouted round corners. They created their own space. They made themselves seen and heard.
Art, I can confirm, is a democracy.
The prime sources for this article were articles published by Steve Cooke in all across the arts in The Rochdale Observer, written by Seamus Kelly and on line pieces written by Eduardo Farina, as well as the author´s own records. and exclusive interview with Sigrid
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This article was collated by Norman Warwick, owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours. Part of this piece has been previously published in his weekly at Lanzarote Information.
Norman is also a founder member of the Joined Up Jazz Journalists (JUJJ) with Steve Bewick, writer, poet and radio presenter of Hot Biscuits weekly jazz programme, Gary Heywood-Everett, jazz writer and local historian and Susana Fondon, contributor and reporter at Lanzarote Information. The purpose of forming JUJJ is to share a love of jazz music at the same time as growing our knowledge of the genre to provide an increasingly comprehensive service for our readers and listeners.
Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio 4.
As a published author and poet he was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and of Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (where he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chapman and all across the arts with Robin Parker.
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