I have been told by many people that my recent experience of having a very sick child will change me. That you come out of the other side of the ‘journey’ as a changed person in many ways. We are half way through Hen’s treatment so it is difficult to see what this change might be from here, where we might end up, how my thinking or approach to life may change. I have continued to paint and show throughout Hen’s illness but for the past couple of months my usual source of inspiration hasn’t been holding my attention in the way that it has for years.
I grew up in a small rural village on the edge of the southern marshes of the Norfolk Broads, the big skies and waterlogged carrs native to Norfolk were my playground as a child and have been my constant companion. The vast, often bleak, landscapes have always felt like home but over the past year and a half I have started to find the marshland overwhelming. The trauma of our recent experiences has overwhelmed my limbic system and the marshes are just too much to deal with. I have often described the landscape as raw and exposed, it is just that and I have found myself automatically seeking the safety, shelter and calmness of the woods.
There is a pocket of ancient woodland next to Haddiscoe Church near my studio which is hidden in a hollow along a landspring between two parallel main roads. Cars race past either side of the woods and huge arable fields are intensively farmed with little in the way of hedgerow or diversity. The woods in the hollow go unnoticed and are known as Devil’s Hole as the church sits physically higher, locally this is explained as ‘heaven up above and hell down below’. The woodland walk at Haddiscoe combined with my familiar marshes at Reedham and the dense, thriving hedgerows of the rural lanes inspired me to apply to Cley Contemporary, an annual curated contemporary art exhibition in North Norfolk. My idea to create three tunnel books of woodland, marsh and hedgerow was accepted just before Christmas and I am developing the works to show at Cley Contemporary, July 2018. The brief, set by curator Caroline Fisher, resonated with me: “The greater the distance the clearer the view. It encapsulates the idea that something seen from far away can resolve itself to become clearer than something seen close up or that a long journey can allow us the greatest perspective on a subject. It implies either distance or time between the object and the viewer.”
I hope that through the process of making new work and giving myself creative freedom to experiment and play with materials, process and subject matters I will be able to either rediscover my love for the wild marshes or find a love for something new.
My sister, Laura, is a musician and has developed a series of curated evenings with other musician friends called Modern Ritual performed in London at Cafe Oto, Union Chapel and The Barbican. For all creatives there is an element of ritual or habit that we create to give structure to an otherwise unstructured way of being. Over the past couple of years, whilst caring for my 9 year old son during his treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, my painting practice has got me through some hard times but I have also lost elements of the ritual and habit that help to create the right environment for me as a painter.
The painting at the start of this blog has special significance for me, I created the drawings in an ancient woodland on a particularly hard day. I parked the car at Haddiscoe Church and walked into the woods crying uncontrollably. I have found during Hen’s illness that 90% of the time it is absolutely necessary to hold it together, not let the emotion out as it could take over everything and wouldn’t help the situation. I didn’t feel much like drawing but made myself walk into the woods. The combination of moving my body and being in such an ancient place worked it’s magic and soon I could breathe properly, I felt properly rooted to the place and sat to draw for a couple of hours. Time slowed, my senses focused on the sounds in the woods, as I was sitting amongst tree roots I watched a tiny spider walk across my legs and I felt the slow turn of the planet.
I know drawing can do this for me, I know that this, along with my love of paint, paper, colour, drawing, is why I am an artist. I know the creative and emotional freedom I feel when I’m in my studio or out drawing. I know the excitement I feel when in the presence of great paintings, they make everything else drop away. But somehow I forget…. I forget how important it is to me… I forget how it helps me… I forget how other people might feel like this too…
My plan for 2018 is simple…! Reinstate the ritual, get back into the creative groove, make work I love, visit galleries, be inspired, inspire others. I am not the best at routine but this blog is going to be my reminder to myself to focus, take myself seriously, to give myself the time I need to develop as an artist and to be proud of the work I have produced by the end of the year.
This is the drawing that reminds me how to be… Devils Hole, Haddiscoe, Norfolk.
At the end of a busy year, alongside looking forward to winter festivities, I find myself planning exhibitions, workshops and talks for Spring, Summer, Autumn 2018. I enjoy making a fresh year planner and putting in all the dates but it does seem weird to be in the depths of winter thinking about summer exhibitions and workshops! I have cleared the decks a bit in terms of exhibitions as I want to develop my work in new ways, possibly pursuing more drawing, printmaking and bookmaking and am excited to have been programmed in to The Aldeburgh Gallery 27/09/18 – 03/10/18 to showcase the new work. Although it seems like a long way off planning needs to start now, I find that I need to be able to visualise the show in order to make it a reality. Once I can see the exhibition and the artwork in my minds eye all I need to do is make it happen!! I visited the gallery this week to measure up the walls and have a think about how my work will look in the space, I am also considering inviting a couple of sculptor friends to share the exhibition, the 2D and 3D art forms could really compliment each other. After measuring up I treated myself to a quick look around Thompson’s Art Gallery where they had the most beautiful tiny Seago marsh painting and an awesome splash of colour by my teacher and mentor Zheni Warner. My ancient Jack Russell Pippi and I then braved the cold to take a walk along the beach past Maggi Hambling’s ‘Scallop’ sculpture and along the edge of the wildlife reservoir. All in all a good days research and planning for next years solo show, I came away with a good helping of light, colour, ideas and inspiration for the new work I hope to produce early next year. Watch this space….!
A busy few months approach kicking off with a collaborative project at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley visitor centre. Adrian Lever, an established pianist, approached me a while ago to see if I would be interested in a project he was developing called ‘Confluence’. The concept was for him to perform a piano concert of improvisations with my paintings as the stimulus in collaboration with 2 other visual artists. The performance and exhibition at Cley next week will be the third performance, the other two were last year at The Cello Factory in London and Anteros in Norwich. For more information on the Confluence Project visit www.confluencepianoproject.co.uk
Norfolk Open Studios starts very soon so I (along with a couple of hundred other Norfolk artists!) have been tidying, hoovering, and rearranging the studio so visitors can squeeze in and have a look around. Lots of paintings to look at as well as some little framed drawings and paintings. I am even working on some rare printmaking, translating my graphic style landscapes into linoprint. I will be open every weekend and bank holiday Monday between 27th May and 11th June 10-4pm. More Norfolk Open Studios 2017 here.
Don’t forget to book up a place on one of my summer workshops too, you can do this through my website and there are lots to choose from. Walking and drawing through the ancient woodland around Haddiscoe Church or Beccles Marshes or a studio day learning about a photographic transfer technique amongst others. Book Sarah Cannell Workshops here
Looking forward to a day of clearing nettles and brambles at Raveningham with an army of artists today. We are preparing the site for the Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail in August, the sun is shining and it looks set to be a lovely day. Everyone is welcome to join us there.
If you really want to treat your mum (or yourself if you feel like a mum who needs a treat!) why not book her on to one of my Landscape Walking and Drawing one day workshops to get the creative juices flowing and have something to look forward to later in the year?! Find out more at www.sarahcannell.com