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tizer_1My Gillray-inspired political cartoons about Old Oswestry have been part of an exhibition of art inspired by the iron age hillfort put on by the Artists Hugging the Hillfort group. The exhibition has been at The Willow Gallery in Oswestry, and is now at Blossoms Gallery in Aberystwyth all through June.

As part of the exhibition opening at The Willow, I gave a short talk about the connections between art and archaeology. The response from the audience was really interesting. Most people attending the talk were completely unaware that there were any connections between archaeology and art – but most were also immediately enthusiastic about the possibilities and potentials of those connections.

For archaeologists, connections with art are opportunities to explore relationships between past material culture and the wider social and cultural meanings of ancient landscape, environment and ecology. But for local communities, connections between art and archaeology are opportunities to help express intimate, contemporary relationships between people and place.

This exhibition brought home to me how much the connections between art and archaeology have to offer those who often feel powerless in the battle to preserve and protect their local heritage. Art about archaeology gives members of a community the chance to show the lived importance of their historical, ancient and ecological heritage – to politicians, to developers, to friends and neighbours… even to archaeologists.

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Full steam ahead!

Full steam ahead!

It’s that time of year again: next week I’ll be doing some art activity days at Oswestry Library, this year as part of the Oswestry Makes Festival. This year I’ve somehow got myself roped into three different events: I’m giving a workshop on applied comics at one of the 6th-form colleges on Oct. 1st, plus I’m doing a “Steampunk Heroes” drawing and colouring session in the morning and a live painting of a specially-commissioned piece of steampunk artwork in the afternoon at Oswestry Library on Oct. 3rd. The steampunk comes courtesy of the theme of the final day of the Oswestry Makes festival at the library, which is a mini comic-con, complete with costume competition and a chance to meet author Kate O’Hearn.

So, the other thing I’ve been roped into doing is coming along to the library’s comic-con in costume

What is a well-dressed steampunk artist wearing this season?

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Lines (iv) - John G. Swogger, 2013.

New Lines (iv) – John G. Swogger, 2013.

It must officially be summer (despite the grey skies) because I’m back at Fine Line tattooing again. I began this past week with some tidying-up work on the shoulder part of a Japanese sleeve – fixing some clouds and adding-in some colour that had been missed. And to celebrate my return to the studio, Rena and Stuart had bought me my very own gun – a lighter-weight liner/shader that’s a good machine to start on.

Not only has it been great to get back to work on real skin, but it’s been interesting to return to tattooing in the context of my other current projects. The whole comics and archaeology thing seems to be really taking off, which means that I’m exploring comics as a medium that bit more closely – and seeing lots more graphic and visual-communication parallels between the two. I’m also returning to the tattoo studio at a time when I’m doing more of these Japanese woodblock-inspired prints for exhibitions with the Inside Out art group, and again, it’s been interesting to explore parallel lines of praxis between the two.

Because just as each area I work in has its own separate and unique methodologies and mechanics, so they also overlap. It’s these areas of connection and contrast that I find particularly rewarding: a chance to draw lines between one thing and a very different other.

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The Archer - John Swogger, 2013; 40x30cm - on exhibition at Underhill Farm, May 4-6

The Archer – John Swogger, 2013; 40x30cm – on exhibition at Underhill Farm, May 4-6

It’s the Underhill Farm Art & Wild Craft Fair this Bank Holiday weekend, and (in addition to organising the event!), I’m hanging a recent print inspired by Llanymynech quarry above the farm. It’s a slightly off-beat work, I suppose, but thoroughly in keeping with recent prints that I’ve exhibited at Cafe Radio in Oswestry and The Hand at Llanarmon.

The print is another in my series inspired by Japanese woodblocks, and uses many of the visual motifs and devices developed by woodblock print artists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I’ve been using this style to approach representation of landscape in the Welsh Marches in a different way for about a year or so now, and the results have been really interesting. As my familiarity with the style, and the evolution of my own artistic response has developed, so I have started not just to represent the landscape differently, but I have started to see it differently.

It’s inevitable that as an artist, one naturally translates a view or landscape into the medium and presentation format one is most familiar with. Not being a landscape artist particularly, I found myself most often mentally translating views of the Marches into watercolours or semi-abstract oils, or quick pen-and-ink sketches – media that I do work in, but that I’m not particularly comfortable in. What I never found myself doing was mentally translating what I was seeing into styles that I used everyday in my illustration work.

Now, however, I do. Using the model of Japanese woodblock prints seems to have unlocked something in the way I look at landscape. Now I find myself seeing things that I didn’t really see before – not details in the landscape, but elements that inspire me draw and produce prints entirely concordant with my usual way of working. It’s been something of a revelation. And what’s more, this whole issue of not just representing but also seeing and looking through the lens of a particular style or medium seems to carry with it big implications for what I’m doing with comics and archaeology.

So, the piece I am hanging at Underhill Farm this weekend is only the first in quite a big series of prints which I’ll be finishing up over the course of the year. The series is entitled A Way of Looking at Time, and at the moment consists of eight prints, but will probably end up being expanded to twelve. Each one is linked to all the others, both physically (each print connects, left and right, to others in the series), and thematically – exploring the layering of landscapes, experience and time with artistic responses growing out of the Underhill Farm artists’ group. The series will be exhibited at Underhill Farm first, and then at other venues around the Borderlands.

Printed at NOW Art. Thanks to Ollie, Nick, Pete & Mo at NOW Group.

Underhill Farm Art & Wild Craft Fair – Sat., Sun, Mon., May 4 – 6, 10-4pm. Underhill Farm, Shropshire: SY10 9RB. More info at: www.insideoutart.co.uk

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Spent the day out around Llanymynech Limeworks and quarry with the Inside Out Art Group for their monthly sketching day. With various thoughts about comics and field work buzzing through the back of my mind, I did a lot of fast sketches – about two dozen (a selection, above) – trying to catch the place as quickly as possible. It’ll take me a while to figure out how to use a comics approach to capture the practice of a sketching day like this, but today pointed me in a few possible directions.

I always like sketching at the quarry and around the limeworks – there’s something about the big, massed quarry cliffs and the stark bulk of the buildings hidden amongst the greenery that really appeals.

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These are some of the cards I made yesterday during out Inside Out Art Group event at Oswestry Library for National Libraries Day. They’re made from phrases cut out of an old book on the study of art, a romance novel, and a Star Wars novel.

You never know: some of you may end up getting one of these on your birthday!

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Art from Words

Art is a language - from "Art and the Word" at Oswestry Library for National Libraries Day.

Art is a language – from “Art and the Word” at Oswestry Library for National Libraries Day.

I’ve just spent the day in Oswestry Library, taking part in the Inside Out Art Group’s Art and the Word event. Eight of us artists sat in the library for the whole day and made art out of unwanted books otherwise destined for the tip.

It was a great opportunity to sit and do something creative in public. Visitors to the library came and took part, trying out the various techniques we were using. I didn’t get to the box of books until most of the really interesting ones were gone, so I ended up with an old book about art, a book about getting babies to sleep, a Spanish-themed romance novel, and a Star Wars novel. Unpromising material, perhaps – but even they ended up being great material to work with.

I did a whole selection of cut and repasted collage-pages from the books which are still in the library, going up as part of an ongoing exhibition there. But I also did a small series of cards, each one with a clipped phrase quickly pasted to the front. I rather liked them – they had that hand-made, small-press feel to them that I like.

Everyone had a great time – there was an excellent atmosphere in the library: all buzzy and creative and fun. We’re going to definitely do it again next year, and may even try to do something similar this coming autumn, too.

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It’s National Libraries Day this coming Saturday, and I’m going to be one of the artists from the Inside Out Art Group taking part in the Art and the Word event at the Library in Oswestry. It’s an all-day art-in organised by the Inside Out Art Group: half-a-dozen artists will be sitting upstairs in among the library shelves, making art with and about books, words and stories. 

To get myself in the mood, I attacked some old Mills & Boon romance novels to create a couple of collages. Extraordinary language you find hidden behind those swoony covers…

 

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"Underground" from the "Signals" series.

“Underground” from the “Signals” series.

Three prints of mine from my 2010 “Signals” series are now on exhibit in Cafe Radio in Oswestry: Underground, Train of Thought and Waiting. The exhibition also includes three other prints: First Snow at Hendre Quarry, Ethnography and Vedana.

The “Signals” series is based on the idea of different lines of communication, and responds to some of the themes of the old radio shop on the premises from which the current cafe takes its name.

The prints will be on display for the next couple of months – so head down to Radio for a cup of the Best Coffee in Oswestry™ and let me know what you think!

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A Fray - Paula Knight. Copies available at: paulaknight.wordpress.com/shop-2/

A Fray – Paula Knight. Copies available at: paulaknight.wordpress.com/shop-2/

I’ve always liked the book as an object in and of its own right, so I’ve always been slightly envious of illustrators and artists who produce small press publications – particularly those small press publications that somehow manage to be both book and artwork at the same time.

Paula Knight‘s A Fray arrived over Christmas, and is a delightful example of just that: a little booklet that crosses over and become a tiny work of art in its own right. Perhaps its the idea that it’s not, in itself, unique – that it’s a unique individual from a series that makes it more than just a publication. Perhaps it’s the care that’s taken with every aspect of the object, from the packaging to the presentation that makes the difference. It’s the way each work takes on the feeling less of a book than of a letter.

A Fray combines hand-printing on vintage paper and a short graphic-panel story about “communication and friendship”. Paula also kindly sent two little cards which reproduce the same short story inside. Curiously, the cards have a completely different feel to the booklet version of the story; the cards are lovely – but the booklet version is the one that really works.

That’s what makes these small press publications so extraordinary as a artworks. There are some stories that work as comics, some stories that work in prose, some that work as poems – but there’s some sort of alchemy that happens when these stories are carefully printed and hand-bound into limited-edition works. There’s a very particular quality to them that’s created by this hand-worked “publication” process – something you don’t get any other way.

For those of us who see the digital publishing environment – blogs, social media, web-comics, on-demand printing – as a brave new world to be conquered, it’s worth remembering that it’s works like A Fray that connect us back to the reason we all fell in love with writing and drawing in the first place.

 

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