Saturday 12 November 2011

Geese Are Getting Fat- Already!

Cross-Channel Ferry, Rain

“Is it really that time again? It doesn't seem like a year since you were round last!”

Well, yessiree, it is- we've travelled in the rain from Roscoff to Plymouth, and through the drizzle heading North to the market town of Clitheroe, Lancashire, where we'll brighten shop windows with our jolly and festive paintings.

We have the luxury of a house in the town this year which means we can walk to work and get home in the light if we finish early enough. We can see the castle from our street, and there's a fish and chip shop on the corner- such a novelty for the exiled Brit- and a particular delight to Mr. Price! We haven't actually had any as yet, but it's just the knowing that it's there.

I was almost happy, too, to be woken up in the early hours by a milkman making his deliveries. And I've seen a coalman. Small but important pleasures!

While we're here I have paintings to deliver to the Colin Jellicoe Gallery in Manchester and the Calder Gallery in Hebden Bridge. The latter is a new one to me, and I've enjoyed depicting a different landscape. The Calder Valley area of Yorkshire is so full of contrasts- high, bleak moorlands stand over the old factory and mill towns in their deep, lush valleys.

Last week I was in Salford to sign up for an exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery. The room where I'll be is enormous and I felt very small... probably because I'm very small! But filling the space with my work will be a wonderful opportunity for my own development as an artist..I can only improve!

In the meantime it's out with the red paint for berries, reindeer noses and Santa, and the green for trees and decking the halls with holly. The red red robin bobs along to the Estate Agents; a mother lays her baby in a barber's window; the Three Kings traverse afar by field and fountain, moor and mountain, and call for refreshments at Molly's café on Moor Lane.

With a smile on our faces and a Ho-ho-ho, we're ringing in the new and the true... yes, already!

Nativity.. Alastair Price

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Dances with Bretons

St.Quay, the old port

Brittany in September is recuperating from the summer influx of tourists and Parisians.
We drive on quieter roads to see our friend, Yann Lozet, up the coast from here.
Yann is a true bagpipe-playing, bombarde-blowing Breton, but at six foot eight in height, he's far from 'traditionally built'.
Our connection with his family goes back a very long way.
Before the Second world War, Mr. Price's father was still at school in Wolverhampton and had a French penpal called Christian Savary. When war broke out he heard nothing from him for several years.
Then in 1944 came the sad news from Christians sister, Denise. He'd joined the Resistance movement and had been captured and executed by the Germans in Rennes.

The correspondence continued with Denise, however, for around fifty years.
It's up to us, now, to keep up the contact.
Yann's invited us to see him playing, and, after a spot of sketching before dusk, we find ourselves in a large hall packed with dancers. We're strongly encouraged to join in with the jollifications and after an hour my calves are aching and I'm still confusing the hops, skips and jumps. There are so many different dances, each with its own local versions.... gavottes, ficels, bals and avants-deux.

Hurray, here's a refreshment break. We drink cider and there's chocolate cake. Curiously, in a big earthenware pot, there's rice pudding, which people try bravely to eat from floppy paper plates, until some bright spark produces plastic bowls.
More bewildering dances with some of the throng taking themselves very seriously, and beginners, like ourselves, collapsing in giggles. I bet they don't like that.
It goes on 'til after midnight- how do they do it?! I want to go to bed, but now we're invited to stay on a while here with Yann and the musicians and organisers, and... to his house afterwards.
We drink more cider and eat more cake, and Mr.Price (due to his size) is asked if he's related to Yann, who has to bend double to speak to a lady.
"For once, I wasn't the biggest bloke in the room" he says on the way home, at half-past two in the morning.

Caroline Johnson

Breton Dancing at St Quay

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Holiday Time!

It's the holidays, the family are over and we're busy visiting favourite places. While the 'children' and grandchildren play it's a great opportunity to get some sketches done.
What a delight to sit on a sunny beach, lean against a rock and draw this lovely scene!
This beautiful 'maison de maitre' at Dinard was built in the late eighteen-hundreds and is called 'Les Roches Brunes'.
It was bequeathed to the town and exhibitions are now held here.

Another popular place for a day out is the heavenly Pen-Guen beach.

Between dips in the sea I practise drawing the chaos of rocks at the foot of the cliffs....

..........while Mr Price sketches his favourite subject- people.

Caroline Johnson, Rennes and Manchester

Monday 27 June 2011

Urban Sketches, Urban Paintings

On the ferry, English Channel

It feels good to be back in one's own country and last time was no exception. In May we sailed from Roscoff in Brittany to Plymouth in England and journeyed to our homeland in the north via the motorways M5 and M6. Early summer was upon us, with the elderflower just in bloom, small farms on the hills and red-brick towns like rashes across the landscape, their chimneys coughing smoke. Here and there, the tower of an ancient church rising from the trees evoked an earlier, less fickle age. Motorway Travel

We went to the private view of an exhibition at the Calder Gallery in the old industrial town of Hebden Bridge, now generally cleaned- up and very arty and touristy .. we arrived early and to while away the time we were forced to have a cream tea and sit by the river watching the ducks. Quel dommage!
Earlier that week I'd had the opening of my solo exhibition 'The Secret World of the Ordinary' at the See Gallery in Crawshawbooth. "Where the hell is Crawshawbooth?" I hear you ask- well, it's:

" a small village on the edge of the Pennine Hills in England just north of the market town of Rawtenstall, Lancashire, and just south of Loveclough It is part of the valley of Rossendale, an ancient royal hunting ground. The majority of surrounding land is farm and moor land and
many walkers come to the area."

For me, Urban sketching has a parallel in urban painting, and this is mainly what the exhibition is about. Thank to the tender ministrations of Mr. Price, we had some great publicity for the show:

The See Gallery is a wonderful place to exhibit and the 'galleristes' are human and approachable. You have just under a week in which to visit, and to claim a cup of tea when you tell them I sent you!

(My many thanks go out to to Julian and Jackie, to our friends and family, and to everyone who came along to the show.)

Sunday 8 May 2011

A Care Home Sketchbook

Last month, Mr Price and myself have a week's residency in a care home on the South coast of England- I'm invited to fill a sketchbook with drawings of the staff and residents, and my fellow artist is to paint a jolly mural in the entrance hall.
"Careful they don't keep you in" quips Mr P on the ferry over.
The first day's spent meeting staff and finding our way around. I get an anxious text from my son ..' does it smell of wee?'. Well, no, thankfully and there are pretty tablecloths and fresh flowers in the dining room.
I don't want intrude suddenly into the lives of those who work, or even pass their last days in the home and it's best, I think, to draw the gardens first, so that folk can see me from the windows and get used to my small figure snooping around!

After a day or so, I ask the residents in the TV lounge- those who've stayed awake during Alan Titchmarsh- if they'd mind my sitting with them and sketching.

The elderly have a habit of dropping off, which makes for easy portraits...
.........but on Wednesdays, the hairdresser comes. There's a hidden sink in the cupboard in the corner of the lounge for washing hair, then she puts the rollers in, which gives a more animated series of sketches.

Meanwhile, Mr. Price is getting on well with his mural, despite the attentions of an elderly admirer who tells him he's a big man, he's got big legs and a fat belly .

One of the ladies invites me to her room to show me a book of drawings she'd did when younger and later on I'm able to draw her room full of memories. I'm told that some resident's rooms are stuffed with objects from their past life, and others bring nothing with them.

The staff, too, are important it's essential I capture the day-to-day hard work of running the home.....
..... and their many acts of kindness towards the residents,
I'm touched by people's friendliness and feel privileged to have the
opportunity to document such an interesting place!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Drawing Rooms

For the past couple of years I've organised a sketching group which meets once a month.

In the winter, we meet up at someone's house and draw what's round us.

Last time, we met up at Suzy's near Dinan- it was the school holidays, so the younger ladies who had children brought them along and they sat and sketched with us.

There's always tea and cakes to hand- this time there were three different kinds to choose from!

Suzy's dog: AD Price, aged 44

Bookshelf: Manon, aged 7.

Friday 25 February 2011

Washing Day Blues

Brittany's still wet and cold at this time of year and now's a good time to get some drawing done indoors. I can't go in the studio with the heater on as we're on a system of electricity which means we get expensive days, and this week's full of them.
What better, then, than to hole up in the kitchen with the woodstove a-burnin' and the kettle a-singin' and the cat a... you get the picture.
Kitchens are wonderful places to draw and in my head I'm singing Robert Johnson's 'Come On In My Kitchen' as I work.

Thoughts turn to this, the most important (sometimes the only) room in any home. The heart of a home, it's said, and ours is no different.
The ancient, simple table is one I bought at auction, already worn by a hundred years of use. This ink stain at one end must be where 'Father' sat and laboured over his letters, where down the years his hands smoothed and oiled the surface to a rich, deep sheen.
Here, too, have congregated our own friends and families.Although " some have gone and some remain.. some are dead and some are living" (Lennon-McCartney), they sit here still, in the mind's eye... the babies Sam and Ben brandish their spoons; my son sits with a 'lucky dip' of girlfriends; my daughter and her new boyfriend are here- she's pregnant but she doesn't tell me; a German photographer is beguiled by scones with jam and cream (he took pictures of us for an alternative guide to Brittany!) and Mr. Price's rock band Dynamos snack on home-made biscuits.
Here's Mark from Birkenhead with tales of his love-life; William with one wife, then a second; our neighbour 'The Only Intellectual in the Village' sweeps back his long black hair (his ridiculously pointed shoes are under the table) And here, too is poor doomed Tom- "Tom with the scruffy hair" my children call him. Tom who a couple of years later fatally falls from a cliff.
Unexpected guests take their place round the table- one July a tall fair stranger and his son knock on the door at midnight looking for shelter. They've travelled from Holland that day and, puzzled, can't find accommodation on the lowliest campsite or the fanciest hotel. He's Mat V, who is a well-known face on Dutch television, but of course we don't know him from Adam and why should we? We drink some beer, put them up next door, they end up staying all week, and visit us regularly down the years. Although, now, they never travel to France on Bastille Day!

Monday 31 January 2011

Friends in High Places...

Old Rennes, the Ty-Anna Tavern

We have younger French friends who live in and around Rennes. This is thanks to Mr. Price's musical 'bent' and his rock band members.
Some of them have lived in the medieval quarter, in buildings with narrow twisting oak staircases and sloping wooden floors. The rue St. Michel, for example, with its half- timbered buildings set at jaunty angles to the perpendicular. These would have belonged to affluent merchants and craftspersons- and I'm not talking cute pottery frogs here, or a hand-crocheted toilet-roll cover!
Elodie and Fred's large room on the first floor overlooked the street through long, wide windows made up of small panes divided by wooden mullions and lead glazing bars. Or muntins as I just found out.....
Everywhere here was built of oak- floorboards, partitions, ceiling, which gave a feeling of being on board an old galleon, or in the heart of a forest, protected by trees.
Contrast this, then, to the uncompromising high-rise apartments which pierce the skyline of Rennes.

In England, living in a block of flats often carries with it a stigma, the cheerless vision of graffiti-scarred, pock-marked stairwells with the heady reek of urine. Not so for our Gallic friends! It's acceptable, even desirable to live in the town where you work. I know a doctor in Rennes whose collegues found it curious- and- laughable when he bought a farmhouse in the countryside a whole fifteen-minutes' drive away.
Inside and out, these French 'grandes immeubles' are bright, clean and well-designed.
Unmistakable among them is the thirty-storey 'Les Horizons', built in 1970 and designed by Maillols. The facade is waves and troughs, light and shadow and, in the evening, when the lights come on in the flats, they make oval shapes.

We've been invited to dine on Saturday in one of the flats, and I've promised to make dessert. It's time, then to open 'The National Trust book of Traditional Puddings' and choose a dish which will prove to the doubting French that English food can be sublime. And I'll can rest safe in the knowledge that when we get there the lift will work and we won't have to carry it up a dark and desolate staircase to the umpteenth floor!

Caroline Johnson - Rennes.