Sculpture 30 September Artist of the Month; Neil Canavan

It is with a heavy HEAVY heart we bid a big goodbye farewell to our year long Sculpture 30 project in Gateshead. What a fantastic run we’ve had celebrating 30 years of Gateshead’s Family Sculpture Day and Public Art Programme.

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The programme has included public events, sculpture tours, art walks, exhibitions, commissions, participatory workshops, school projects, community engagement and range of very talented artists each with a very sculptural practice.

Each month, I’ve featured an “Artist of the Month” showcasing them, their practice and sculpture in a variety of contexts.

October 2015 – Helen Pailing

November 2015 – Yvette Hawkins

December 2015 – Stephen Newby

January 2016 – Jo Coupe

February 2016 – Tanya Axford

March 2016 – Ed Carter

April 2016 – Joseph Hillier

May 2016 – Russ Coleman

June2016 – Colin Rose

July 2016 – Gilbert Ward

August 2016 – Jane Gower

And finally that brings us on to September 2016 and the subject of this blog post; Neil Canavan, our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month for September.

I first met Neil, probably about five years ago, when I was working my very first Gateshead Family Sculpture Day in Saltwell Park. Neil is something of a Sculpture Day veteran – having been involved with it since very near the beginning.

You only have to work with him a short while to see; firstly the man knows how to handle a band saw…… something I’ve grown to love and learn, but was initially terrified. Secondly, he really loves what he does and working with wood – it oozes out of him. Where others (like me) see a pile of wood, he see’s opportunity and creativity. It amazes me every year, what he builds with the school children on School Sculpture Day.

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Neil has a studio in North Shields and alongside the making of his own sculpture, he works on commissions, residencies and school projects. He uses particular themes to produce a series of works – a key theme is that of the coastline; an area in constant flux.

Neil is our September Artist of the Month, not just for his involvement this year in School Sculpture Days and Gateshead Family Sculpture Day on 25th September; which by the way, was absolutely smashing! But he also led a Sculpture Making Workshop in the Gallery, at Gateshead Central Library where participants of all ages created mini sculptures which then became part of a large-scale sculpture called ‘Juggernaut’ inspired by the large mobile structures that were pulled along by devotees in Hindu religious processions.  Juggernaut became the ‘showstopper’ if you will, on Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, featured amongst the sculptures Gateshead schools had made on their days.

As always with our Artists of the Month, I caught up with Neil so I could dig a little deeper beyond the man I’ve only met on Sculpture Days and find out what other sculptures float his boat!

Hi Neil, so tell me about your practice?

Mostly, I tend to work on commissions either public or private. I work with the housing group ISOS quite a bit with their community development team producing work that is installed in developments. This usually means working on ideas with either community groups or local schools near to the new development.

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Cherry Tree Fence

Most of my work involves construction or carving mainly in wood but I love mixing materials and trying out new techniques, e.g. bin bags with Juggernaut. My work also involves interaction with the general public covering all ages; this is an essential part of my working practice.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work and sculptures?

There are many and varied sources of my inspirations; I do tend to plunder what I see as watershed moments in my past such as my childhood, growing up in the countryside, my time working in India and Cyprus.

Also I’m greatly influenced by the land and seascapes both in the North East but also my trips abroad. Shorelines in particular fascinate me; the fluid nature of their interaction keeps me enthralled.

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Going with the Flow

What is your favourite type of material to work with?

Wood but particularly driftwood! I love the shape, texture and feel of this material; although I’ve used many differing materials in my work from bones to bin bags. I tend to use either natural or recycled materials and love being able to mix them in my work.

How did you get into sculpture?

This is a somewhat long and convoluted journey. I started my working life as an electrician and through my twenties did lots of different jobs and became somewhat bored. By chance I signed up to a stained glass course to learn how to cut glass; the tutor must have spotted something because he said I had a talent for it. I started to get small commissions but quickly realised I needed to learn how to draw; at school I’d been told I wasn’t very good at art so I didn’t try to learn the technique of drawing.

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Seaton Burn Gabbions

So I went to do A level art and once there it was like a light bulb moment; I knew this is what I wanted to do! Since I’ve always been good with my hands I gravitated quickly to sculpture and working in three dimensions.

Any advice for a budding sculptor?

The main thing is perseverance! Say yes to any initial work after you leave college as you never know what it might lead to.

Tell me a bit about Juggernaut – the Sculpture 30, Sculpture Day showstopper?

The idea for Juggernaut goes back to my time working in India; I loved the way they celebrate events particularly big religious festivals and I thought what better idea then to make something big and colourful that could be pulled into the park to celebrate what is already an amazing popular event.

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Juggernaut

Also I liked the play on words from its original meaning in Hindu of the large mobile temples pulled along in outdoor religious festivals to its present meaning of something large and unwieldy; a bit like Sculpture Day itself.

Do you have a favourite sculpture of yours?

Not sure I have a favourite piece! I suppose I still have a soft spot for Ship of Fools, in fact my more temporary pieces tend to be the ones I have more fun making.

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Ship of Fools

Do you have a favourite piece of sculpture in general?

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Taratantara –  Kapour

This is difficult, as I’ve been inspired by so many different sculptors over the years. The Field by Gormley and Taratantara by Kapour are two that stick in the mind.

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The Field – Gormley

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

I’m just in the process of working out the next ISOS commission for a social housing development in South Shields and I’m working with a local primary school.

So Culture Vultures, from me and the other Sculpture 30 Team; thank you for supporting the project. To all the artists including this month’s artist Neil, you’re all amazing and I hope we’ve created something of a legacy here; lots of memories.

With Sculpture 30 now over, you may be thinking….now what?

Well – there is LOADS coming up….first stop…..Digital Makings.

Watch.this.space.

 

Sculpture Day 2016: Game ON!

It is very nearly Sculpture Day…..it is THIS Sunday, starting at 11am in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

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So how are going to approach this year’s theme Games? Even if you’ve been before but especially if you haven’t, I want to make sure that you get the most out of the day and build something fantastic!

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I love this year’s theme Games; it is so open to interpretation! But I’m going to give you some ideas to get you started thinking – You could build;

  • Something from the Olympic games
  • A level from a retro game – eg: Sonic.
  • Your favourite Pokemon character.
  • Take an idea from a Computer game; e.g. Mario Cart, Grand Theft Auto or the Simms.
  • Something board game inspired e.g. Monopoly, Scrabble, Connect four, Hungry Hippos, Guess who or a 90s favourite of mine; Dream Phone!
  • App games – Candy Crush, Subway Surfer…
  • Card games – poker inspired or exploding kittens.
  • School games – e.g. something Sports day related, What’s the time Mr Wolf, Red Rover or Tag.
  • A 3D reimagining of your current favourite Virtual Reality game.
  • Fair games – e.g. Hook a Duck.
  • Other games such as bowling, bowls, Pool, Snooker…..

I could go on, the list is simply endless and I can’t wait to see what you guys get building this year!

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I thought I’d ask the experts for a bit of advice that may help you get building….. I spoke to Karen Rann- A Sculpture Day sculptor, Anna Pepperall – Gateshead Public Art Curator, Adam Taylor –Sculpture Day addict and event’s manager and Jen Douglas – Gateshead based artist and sculptor. I gathered their hints, tips and insights to give you a helping hand to get started…..

What are your top tips for Sculpture day 2016?

Adam: Make it a family/group activity, everyone chipping in ideas, agreeing on a plan, choosing wood, and then building.

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Anna: Wear Warm clothes, and thick shoes/boots; bring lots of food, and your own hammers!

Jen: Either ‘ go with the flow’ and wait till you arrive to think about the Sculpture Day theme or, have a think about the theme beforehand, brainstorm ideas that you can bring along to work on with your family or group of friends you come with so you have starting points for what to make.

Right – so we’ve got lots of wood, they’ve got their tools – what is the best way to get started?

Adam: It’s always good to have a good plan, and think about how the various bits of wood are going to be nailed together.

Anna: Talk to Staff on the Info desk, look at a storyboard for inspirational ideas , ask an artist, or join a group already working on something.

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Karen: Think about framework, creating a good ‘bone structure’ it’s fun to save adding all the little details till the end.

Jen: If you get stuck for ideas there are Sculptors on hand to give you inspiration and get you started. Think through which of these ideas will work in 3D using wood and nails…. Some things might work better than others.

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Is it best to plan your sculpture before you start or just “go with the flow”?

Anna:  Either- some people prefer to come with an idea but often it’s good to look around and get inspiration, or from the Artists/Storyboard.

Jen: It’s sometimes useful to think about making the sculpture from the base up – work as a team/family to decided who works on which section of the sculpture so everyone has a job! With lots of different types of wood different lengths/thicknesses etc. might suit different sections to your sculpture so a plan may be useful.

Karen: Depends how you like to work it could be you spot an enticing bit of timber at that gets the imagination going, don’t forget to look at the school’s work for inspiration.

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For the Sculpture Day veterans or newbies out there, who attend year on year what would your advice be on approaching this year’s theme “Games”?

Adam: Plan something original!

Jen:  When you’ve decided what you want to make gather together some pieces of wood and lay them out on the floor so that you can start to ‘map out’ your sculpture and see how each piece might join together to form your 3D masterpiece. You can always tweak and add more pieces of wood to make the work more elaborate.

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It’s as much fun to just tinker away with the wood and create something quite unique and un-related to the theme – that is fine too Sculpture Day is a fantastic experience to have and everyone who comes along has fun!

Karen:  Don’t always go with the first idea, it may be a tricky one to transform into 3d, there’s so many types of games and a little time spent playing with ideas might lead to something really novel and fun to make.

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Well it’s over to you Culture Vultures; I’ll see you in the Grove, in Saltwell Park on Sunday from 11am.

Game on!

Jane Gower – Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month August

Well Summer is drawing to the end…..and it seems fitting that we spent most of August’s Sculpture 30 activity outside with the sculptor version of Ray Mears.

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As an artist, a business person, a career person, a stay at home saint or any other type of busy bee, do you take the opportunity to get outside and appreciate the outdoors. Now I mean, REALLY appreciate – look around you, taking in the smells, the shapes of natural objects, the light…….

If you look closely enough, beauty and sculpture can be found and created in almost anything. Taking time out to do this is not only imperative for your mindfulness and inner wellbeing, it is also crucial part of the creative process; allowing yourself to think, reflect, reimagine and to get lost in the world around you, that you may see every day, but not take in.

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That’s what we focused on during August with our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month Jane Gower. We got outside with different groups; adults, children, artists and creatives a like and we got using the natural world and materials around us to make beautiful sculptural pieces that both created meaning in the present and complemented the landscape.

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I spent an afternoon with Jane during a family Land Art workshop in Thornley Woods…..it was a fantastic afternoon spent making our names from natural resources around us and picking special objects during our trail.

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Whilst on our object hunt, we often stopped to talk about why we’d picked certain objects, why they visually seemed special to us and the beautiful colours, shapes and textures. It was fascinating to share perceptions and discover emotional attachments to inanimate objects.

Jane had also scattered on our route, several pieces of her land art that she had created making the afternoon feel like a mini sculpture trail of natural discovery.

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We used our materials to recreate the Gruffalo’s foot-steps – a series of footsteps with natural materials, to reimagine what he might like to eat and we ended our session making him a den.

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I had a fantastic afternoon – I found it grounding in the sense it reminded me of the creative possibilities that exist all around us every day and how these possibilities are constantly changing and evolving with nature. Moreover, this type of sculpture making is very accessible to everyone and something individuals, teams, groups and families can do as a collective.

After the session, I caught up with Jane Gower, our artist of the Month for August, to probe a little deeper into her practice, to find out what it is about the outdoors she loves so much and what exactly, ephemeral art is……?

Hi Jane, Tell me a little about yourself?

I love walking, especially with friends and family and ravelling around and camping in my converted transit van; also getting totally lost in creating a piece of work when I forget time, to eat and other people. I also love collaborating with other artists on projects.

Meeting new people is endlessly fascinating especially if I’m researching for a commission and find out about a whole different way of life.

I did a degree in Textiles and an M.A in Fine Art. My jobs from a previous life include; Stage-Management in London West End Theatres, running my own knitted textile business, clothing designer/production manager for a Fair Trade company, Art Foundation Course Lecturer and Community artist.

I have two children who have flown the nest.

Tell me about your practice?

I have been described as an eccentric art-scientist, experimenting with different materials: melting, shredding and generally deconstructing, then re-constructing the remains into some other form. This approach employed man-made materials. I’ve transferred this questioning recently, into testing the physical qualities of natural elements out in a rural environment. In doing so I’ve dropped the need for tools and equipment, finding the necessaries in a ‘make-do-Ray-Mears’ approach and adapting whatever’s lying around or re-thinking the process. This is very liberating. It involves trusting a spontaneous response to the natural environment and going with it.

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I also describe my practice as socially-engaged; involving participants in the creative process, using a range of media and techniques that is relevant for both the participants and to the installation site. The constant thread that runs through all my work is the intricacies of communication in the cultural realm: the disparity that lies between intention and interpretation.

Social engagement has decreased in recent times as I’ve been exploring this new direction in my practice.

Past commissions and residencies include; The Great North Run, The Sage Gateshead, Newcastle Riverside Sculpture Trail, The Tall Ships Race, Pallion, Cleadon and Gateshead PCT NHS Health Centres, among others.

Where can people go to see more of your work?

In terms of the Land Art work nothing can be seen in actuality as it’s so temporary but I’m on Instagram as jane_gower. I try and make one Land art piece a day, photograph it and upload onto the app every day.

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There are two large-scale, permanent, sculptural installations in the Trinity Square Health Centre at West Street, Gateshead. One is inside the surgery and one outside in the car park. Both were participatory pieces based around the question: ‘What makes you better?’. They are both permanent. Fabricated from printed and engraved clear or mirror acrylic they are different from resources I am currently using.

Voice recordings are often incorporated into my sculptural installations as I like to make evident the work process in the final piece and they bring animation.

I’ve just completed a sound piece: ‘Coastal Viewpoints’ in collaboration with Nicola Balfour for Durham Heritage Coast. We’ve been audio recording people out and about on the coastal path between Seaham and Horden. Their responses to the question: ‘What’s your view of this coastline?’ are being edited into QR points on the information boards along the path. People can hear some of the recordings on the FB page; ‘Coastal Viewpoints’.

What are your ties to the North East?

There are several factors:

I ran away from a London-life 28 years ago, for a job as clothing designer/production manager for the fair-trade company Traidcraft in Gateshead, and never went back.

I live on the border of three very different county boundaries; Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead. The diversity in terms of landscape, communities and culture is so varied and engaging, that it constantly inspires me.

I feel the North East has been one of the few areas in England that has valued artists’ contribution to its regeneration. Even though there has been a noticeable dearth of available arts funding recently, it still feels there’s potential to make a living as a free-lance artist here.

The North East has been good to me. Both my children were born here, so the area feels like part of our DNA.

For those who don’t know, what is “Ephemeral Land Art”?

Land Art refers to an art movement that began in the 60’s in which landscape and art is inextricably linked. It’s about experiencing natural spaces and responding to them using indigenous materials to create art and placing it in the natural environment. The ‘Ephemeral’ derives from a Greek word meaning lasting only one day. This encapsulates the temporary period that the artworks are expected to exist. Due to the raw materials being used and the spaces they are created in, out in the natural environment, they will start to deteriorate immediately. Open to the elements, to animal and human activity, the artworks only exists at the moment of creation. Documenting that moment through photography is the only way to keep the piece alive and give it longevity.

Why is getting outside important for creatives?

Getting outside whatever the weather for anyone, regardless of whether they are an artist or not, is very grounding. Even in an urban environment, I think to feel the elements and to be in natural light helps get things into perspective. Being outdoors invigorates and you are dealing immediately with the here-and-now basics of life.

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Having to find a way of working with the idiosyncrasies of a variety of natural forms, out in an uncontrollable environment, has its own particular challenges and rewards for creative people.

Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Gateshead homeschoolers?

I was asked to work with a homeschooling group and their carers based in Gateshead. We spent 2 ½ days in Thornley Woods exploring the landscape, looking at all the resources available and using different techniques to make land art, prints and photographs. Sometimes everyone worked individually and sometimes as a team. We did lots of playing and walking, and discussing the natural environment   and our response to it. They were for me some very uplifting and informative days with an enthusiastic group of learners.

What is your favourite piece of Sculpture in the North East/the world?

One that always resonates with me is Cornelia Parkers’   Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) A garden shed she had blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments as if suspending the explosion process in time.

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Well thank you Jane, another fantastic Sculpture 30 artist of the Month.

As we draw ever closer to the end of Sculpture 30 Festival, I have to say I now view Sculpture in a whole new way. It is very accessible and incredibly diverse in art form, materials used, nature, inspiration…..I am also surprised to discover through-out the year, how “sculpture” is not really the isolated art form, I thought it was. It in fact infuses, permeates and influences Art and creative practices in a huge way….

Taking from Jane and I think we all can Culture Vultures; get outside more and really look at the natural world around you for it is full of undiscovered creative possibilities!

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Throw Back Thursday – Gateshead Family Sculpture Day

This year’s Gateshead Family Sculpture Day celebrated it’s 30th year! As someone who has just turned 30, it is hard to comprehend an event that is the same age as me. Like most 30th birthdays, it went off with a bang! And before you ask, yes there was lots of cake!

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On 27th September 2015, well over a thousand people descended on The Grove in Saltwell Park for a beautiful day of making and creating with tonnes of wood and hammers and nails! It was a very sunny day – the perfect weather for some sculpture building.

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This year’s theme was home and we encouraged participants to show us what home meant to them and create a sculpture representing it. We saw attendees make all sorts – from tree houses, to ships, to the infamous Tyne Bridge, to beds, to dens, to castles!

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As always, we had sculptors and artists on hand, to help get those creative juices following, live music from local bands, Raku tiles and our Culture team crew were on hand chatting to makers and photographing the day.

The day was made even more special as it signified the launch and the beginning of Sculpture 30 Festival; our celebration of sculpture in and across Gateshead.

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I spoke to a little boy who had spent all summer planning his master creation and he’d even drawn out blue prints of his “garden sculpture”. Just shows, how important and valuable free events like this are for children (and adults) to explore their creative sides and to work with materials, they wouldn’t normally.

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That was my take away moment from this year’s sculpture day; seeing a field full of diverse people making, united under the common goal to create a sculpture! Something tangible and something fantastic!

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Sculpture Day for us takes about 4months worth of planning, lots of blood, sweat and tears – but this year, what I loved most, was after all of that work and the day was done, retreating to my home (just along the top of Saltwell Park) and looking at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and seeing pictures of happy families, couples and groups of people making and proudly standing by their sculptures.

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(All photos credited to Dee Chaneva – Hillfield Photography Studio)