My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #1
This year was the third Art Weekender in Plymouth but having only recently returned to the area this was my first experience and I was impressed! The quantity and quality of the art was astonishing. Despite having one of the few dedicated Art Schools in the country and a well respected Arts faculty at Plymouth University, when I left 10 years ago Plymouths Arts Community was not hugely visible to mainstream Plymouth and beyond.
But things are changing and Plymouth Art Weekender is a vibrant sign of ‘Artsy’ Plymouth. I’ve attended week-long festivals which haven’t had such a voracious and high quality itinerary as PAW17. It didn’t pass me by that Art Weekender exhibits started popping up well before the weekend, and I hope some of it will hang around a bit as well. For me the weekender has been a case of ‘so much art, so little time’. I’ve written about the exhibits and events that really stood out in my weekend but there were many other wonderful pieces I would have loved to write about.
For me the first event was live music at Hutong Cafe. Hutong Cafe cuddles up to the outside of the main entrance of The Royal William Yard and is the evolving brainchild of George, Jack and Emma who opened the Cafe earlier this year. Diamond Family Archive are a Lo-Fi psych folk duo and they filled this intimate venue. The music was mesmerizing, the music swelled and grew to the point that it seemed impossible that only two men were creating it. Ambient sounds, seemingly plucked out of the night air were woven into the performance. Coupled with good wine and food, this could be the new way to enjoy live music.
Ocean Studios played host to JoJo’s photography exhibition before and during the Weekender. This exhibition features couples who have committed to life together alongside single mothers with their children. I posed for Jojo 10 years ago in his first Plymouth Uncovered book and know from experience what a charismatic photographer he is so I felt a particular connection to this exhibition. His empathetic approach to his photography gives it the quality of painted portraits, evolved over a far greater timeframe. Faces, but also hands and feet are expressive at a deeper level than in a usual portrait because of some special magic that Jojo manages to infuse into his sessions. Some of the photos in this exhibition ache with the amount of information they are trying to convey.
I was lucky enough to talk to the artist after seeing the exhibition, and told him some of the sentiments I had picked up on from his images. Ever the consummate professional he said nothing indiscreet about his sitters but I’m sure his eyes agreed with some of my thoughts. I’ve been back a couple of times to enjoy his exhibition; it is well worth the time. This diligence has nothing to do with the great coffee and cake that can be bought at The Ocean Studios Cafe next to the exhibition…
My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #2
Saturday saw bright sunshine and driving through Plymouth early in the morning I could sense there was something arty in the air. As I drove around the city I caught sight of what can only be described as human sized litter, performing strange activities. I arrived to my first venue of the day, Ocean Studios Open Studios. This event took up way more time than I had planned for and the event blew me away. It was like visiting a massive advent calendar. Every time I took a peak behind the door of a studio I had no idea what I was going to experience. The ground floor, larger, studios of ceramicists and other makers were alive with the chatter of children’s workshops.
Space was at a premium as the peripheries of the rooms were filled with proud and attentive parents who marveled and photographed the skills and achievements of their offspring. Chunky stone stairs led me upwards to smaller spaces. My nose led me in the direction of an artist who was using oil paints, brilliant jewel like colours shone off canvasses, coupled with the smell it was a heady mixture. Sadly the artist was missing, (everyone needs a wee sometime).
Teresa Pemberton was in the building and her big bright canvasses bring a smile to anyone’s face. Talking to Teresa it was easy to discover the value of working as a lone practitioner within a collaborative space like Ocean Studios. Mosaicist Emma Spring works was working on a brightly coloured commission in her studio space.Emma has been creating Mosaics a long while, examples of her work adorn the streets of Saltash and she is also closely associated with Flameworks in Plymouth. I’ve recently taken more interest in mosaics, it was great to meet her and see the process as a contemporary practice.
So far so familiar, and that is not a bad thing but on opening one of the doors I met a woman who Free-style embroiders on a machine. Who even knew there was such a thing! Ewa Morawski has recently relocated to Plymouth and lives close to her studio in Royal William Yard. She studied textiles in London and has had commissions from some interesting organisations. Her creations are stored in clear crystal boxes and as her work tumbles out it is hard to believe that the flimsy, beautiful objects are not petals and blossoms just plucked from a bush. One recent commission had her making delicate orchids for the Royal Horticultural Society; they were better than the real thing. She works on an old Singer sewing machine that looks just like the ones that retailers use to give their interiors retro credibility. Ewa creates flowers for brides and corsages but not all her work is soft and sensitive. She rocks punk sensibilities when she recreates tattoos in fabric and her version of a Remembrance Day poppy is vibrant and jazzy.
As I came to the end of my journey I connected with Shayne House. Shayne and Sarah Smalldon share a studio, Shayne is a digital marketing expert and creates wonderful prints with Letterpress and Silk Screen. Sarah produces prints and exquisite house portraits. Perhaps most importantly after four hours of poking my nose in Studios they had a lovely squashy sofa to rest my weary art tourist feet.
My Plymouth Art Weekender trilogy #3
Sunday, I planned to spend the whole day with one topic – Commit This To Memory. Jessica Wright had installed QR codes at each of the 32 sites identified by Plymouth City Council as ‘at risk’. My interest in this project was that each of these sights was already known to me from years of hunting down old bits of Plymouths history, however I have neglected them for the ten years I’ve not lived in Plymouth. The project aims to get Plymouth people involved and interested in the architectural features that Plymouth Council consider to be at risk of becoming unsustainable, to preserve their history. As a family and group of friends we love finding ‘Old Plymouth’ and the conversations and happy memories that spring out of an old piece of Plymouth architecture are precious.
In Jessica’s words- The project is about the here and the now, engagement in the present and the infra-ordinary – the little things that go unnoticed. Scan the QR codes on the stickers to find out more about the sites included in the project and use the hash tag #cttmplymouth to get involved on Instagram. Follow the project @cttmplymouth.
Following the project on Sunday got more and more unpleasant as the rain tracked down my neck, and photography became impossible. The great thing about this Art Weekender experience is that these artifacts have been around a while and will last even longer with love and respect from the city even if this particular project is transitory. Sunday’s weather defeated me but Monday, saw sunshine and climate induced enthusiasm. I popped out to three of my favourite sites on CTTM. And in the spirit of the project shared some of our familial memories.
Thanks to Jessica Wright and her project, I’ve had a great Sunday/Monday. As my personal conclusion to Plymouths Art Weekender, CTTM beautifully illustrated how art enhances life. Just visiting these architectural locations makes me enthusiastic to learn more about each of them and to experience and talk about them with other people.
The 3rd Plymouth Art Weekender, what a blast!