Home is Where the Heart Is

I enjoyed a fantastic eye and ear-opening weekend last September working at the Festival of Thrift that took place in and around Kirkleatham Museum between Redcar and Middlesbrough. I was on Artist Liaison duties, and whilst there were several memorable moments, the most moving was seeing Teesside performer and Community Engineer Mike McGrother bring three of his acts together on stage simultaneously. Those acts comprised Infant Hercules, a male voice choir named in honour of the region’s proud industrial heritage, the Haverton Hillbillies, a tribute to McGrother’s grandad and community and McGrother also performed as a solo act, the Wild Rover.

Back stage at the Festival of Thrift 2019

The men, and there were A LOT of them, dressed in flat caps, shirts, neckerchiefs and braces – they looked like extras from Peaky Blinders creating impact and presence before even opening their mouths, but when they did their accents were unmistakably, beautifully Teesside. I say beautifully, because I grew up downwind from Middlesbrough, it was my stomping ground as a teenager, so I’m fond of the Teesside accent and the sharp, frequently cheeky, raw and unreserved quick-wittedness that often accompanies it.

The men performed on a stage sponsored by Wilton-headquartered chemical firm SABIC. Many of the men had walked together to the festival site from Haverton Hill that morning. The men sang soulfully about Teesside’s rich industrial heritage, community and struggle. It was moving, very, very moving.

Photo of the Infant Hercules musicians on the Transporter Bridge – taken from the Infant Hercules Facebook page.

I felt a bit embarrassed that I’d grown up so near and yet so far from their geography and the subject matter they sang about, but yesterday context started to slip in to place… This weekend marked the first of half term, and my husband and I thought it would be nice to take the children to the seaside. We decided upon Redcar; only we overshot the turning driving up the A19.

“You know, I’ve always wondered what’s at Seal Sands… presumably seals and sands – should we go there instead?” I said.

Well, we found neither seals nor sands but a truly fascinating landscape that was completely alien to us and so intriguing!

Yesterday, on our unexpected day trip, we inadvertently stumbled across medusa-like, epic chemical sites located around the mouth of the River Tees at Wilton, Billingham and Seal Sands. The plants felt like high security ghost towns set amidst a combination of post industrial wastelands, Dutch-looking agricultural land, small pockets of residential communities, amongst them, Haverton Hill. The modest, terraced houses seemed oddly located in the landscape. With next to no apparent amenities to serve them some of the homes were burnt out, some boarded up but many were exceptionally well kept. Hardship and pride were simultaneously evident. I was transported back to the lyrics of an Infant Hercules song about reduced employment, hope, and displaced communities. I remembered tales of industrial air pollution that drove people to relocate from the Tees Estuary to ‘cleaner’ communities close by. I remembered my Granddad telling me that when he moved to North Yorkshire as a lad it was impossible to see Middlesbrough from the North York Moors for the thick smog that hung over it.

My paternal grandparents worked for the Bell family on their rural estate south of Middlesbrough in the North York Moors. My granddad was born in Norfolk but had been orphaned and the church arranged employment for him and his siblings on estates in various parts of the country. Granddad found himself in North Yorkshire, an economic migrant of sorts, I suppose, like many of the Irish communities that moved to Teesside to find work.

The Bell family played a significant role shaping Teesside during the Industrial Revolution. Haverton Hill grew as a residential area in the 1880s when The Bell Brothers set up a salt extraction plant at Saltholme, up the road from the settlement. My heritage, and the heritage of those men on that stage was interlinked after all – we were all part of the same story. I wondered if, on a subconscious level, this was why I had felt so profoundly moved by their voices on the stage that day.

In short, I’ve got to go back to Seal Sands. I’ve got to take my camera and my sketchbook and my very own thinking (flat) cap and breathe it in, all of it. It was remarkable, it was massive; it’s kind of forgotten, kind of erased, it’s pivotal, it was then and it is still very much now.

We did make it to Redcar beach, by the way. And the children had a great time!

Redcar Beach

Shining Light

Shining Light
February 2017
Oil on canvas


Mayhew Craddock has developed an interest in the earth’s layers and the earth’s relationship with its greater environment, over the past few years – intrigued by the moon, sea, land, magnetic forces and tides tides, Shining Light looks specifically at the romanticism of stargazing, and the way in which people (from around the globe) have navigated using the night sky, and looked to the stars for direction in love and life throughout history. The idea of greater forces being at work dictating behaviour on the ‘surface’, and pathways that most are totally oblivious to both fascinates and frightens the artist who views elemental forces as having the capacity to offer great personal perspective.

The layered nature of understanding is represented in this series of work through the depth of colour of the oil paints selected (working with two of the slowest drying pigments available) and contrasting flecks of constellations that allow viewers to consider their position in time and space.

In short, the work is a visual allegory for the necessity of, and the difficulty in, gaining a 360 degree understanding of any subject in order to fully comprehend a situation, and make informed decisions as a consequence… posing the question as to whether or not we ought to merely follow our gut instinct, and be guided by ‘that star’ that shines brighter than all the rest yet changes according to the environment it is seen in.

This series of works places emphasis on the mystery, beauty, and romanticism of one’s relationship with the galaxy, and those relationships we harness within in, whilst also inviting the viewer to acknowledge the enormity and influencing factors of what lies beneath and above ‘the surface’.

The work takes its title from the song Shining Light by Ash – a song that resonates from the artists’ youth.

Look Up!

So, sometimes it’s impossible to shake off an idea. An idea for a piece of work just stays in your head, often goes through various changes as time and thoughts progress, but the concept remains the same and stays with you.

Well, I’ve had a yellow disc dangling from the ceiling in three different studios now, a blue sheet draped in the air, and a kaleidoscope tacked to a window. They relate to a series of three sculptural works all inspired by the perspective offered by time spent in the great outdoors.

The Sun Never Stops Shining is a bright yellow transparent disc that towers overhead offering shelter, and a space for reflection. Through the grey days, life’s difficulties, and hard times some things remain constant, wether one’s aware of them or not – the sun never stops shining. Get out, soak up some essential vitamin d, feel the breeze on your face!

Similarly, Look Up! offersa place to shelter, to gather, to chew the fat, and contemplate. A place to look up from one’s smart phone, to interact with real people, real environments, in real time.

The kaleidoscope idea (working title, Chasing Rainbows) is far from being fully resolved, but it won’t go away. I just know that I want to create a piece of sculptural work that uses prisms to catch and reflect light. A piece that can be approached from any angle, and reveals the “magic” of daylight – the beauty that exists in the simplest things – the beauty that exists in nature!

Knowing Which Path to Follow

I’ve been thinking a lot about pathways through life recently – the different directions that we all take, for various reasons, through choice or otherwise, the paths these “choices” lead us down, and the way in which our movements influence the people and places that we ‘land’ in.

I’ve been thinking about infrastructure, about man-made routes designed to channel, and more natural routes, many of which become identifiable, and established (in some way, shape, or form) over time… which makes me think about sheep tracks in the moors that carve through the heather, and Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking, 1967.

This got me looking at political maps, and the way in which boundaries have changed (largely through conflict) throughout history. In turn, leading me to think about hostility towards migrant populations. Which set me off thinking about the migratory routes of animals, and the way in which these are so often protected; from frog crossings in roads, and newt conservation areas in construction, to positioning wind turbines in locations avoiding the flight paths of migratory birds. Many UK migratory birds enjoy latitudinal migration, flying north and south between summer and winter ranges; though there are many other types of migration taking place across the globe, such as; circuits of the land and ocean that enable turtles to return to their nests, and altitudinal migration up and down mountains as seen in North American Quails, and also in Copepods, tiny sea crustaceans that migrate up and down the oceans’ water columns… all these animals crossing arbitrary boundaries, just to get by, just to survive, and we help them to do so… because they’re not humans, who we appear to take issue with all too often when they try to do the same!

Interestingly, birds are known to use different visual landmarks, such as mountains or bodies of water, along with using the sun to navigate during daylight and the stars at night for directional purposes.  More amazing still, birds can also use the Earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate, made possible using the magnetic substance magnetite (a substance that has been found in the beaks of different bird species). Magnetite reacts to the Earth’s magnetic field and allows the bird to orientate itself  accordingly.  Although each of these senses plays a big part in the ability of animals to migrate, the most vital factor is genetics.  Migration is instinctive, most migrants’ brains are programmed to tell them to set off on a specific route, in a specific direction, at a given moment of time – totally amazing, and so wonderfully intuitive.

I was watching the Disney film, Moana (based on stories from Polynesian mythology), recently with my nearly three year old daughter, and wondered what she might be thinking as she watched the Polynesian fishermen brave the high waters taking their direction from the stars… which made me think about a small body of artwork that I created recently called Shining Light.

Anyway, having studied lots of migratory maps now, having thought about the way in which animals instinctively navigate paying no attention to political boundaries, I think there’s great beauty in migrational routes, and I’m going to make a body of artwork to highlight that, in an attempt to help others identify this beauty, and the joy and richness that cross-cultural exchanges, and respectful freedom of movement can bring.

p.s. This is a very cool project – http://www.flywaysmusic.org/the-music/videos/#flywaysmusic

A Dream of the Sea

I’ve curated an exhibition that’s currently up at The Witham arts centre in Barnard Castle. It’s called a Dream of the Sea – the title was inspired by an old friend’s email address, I was at art school with Duncan, aka adreamofthesea@XXX, and he was a dream in himself – bursting with iridescent fun and wild imagination – an amazing guy, and a fascinating artist. Anyway,  the words A Dream of the Sea have always captured my imagination, and I so when I sat pondering a fitting programme of exhibitions for my role as Visual Arts Coordinator at The Witham this title sprang to mind. Barnard Castle is about as landlocked and agricultural as rural gets in the UK, but the vast majority of us ‘dream of the sea’ and of escapism – not least when the days are cold, long and dark, yet our anticipation of  Summer and coastal adventure is piqued by the Spring Equinox.

So here we have it, an exhibition called A Dream of the Sea that opened on Thursday 2, and continues until Saturday 25 March 2017. The exhibition spans the Gallery, Dispensary Gallery, and seeps/laps into the Shop at The Witham, admission is free, and access if from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday to Saturday.

It’s a group exhibition, and clearly I think all of the artists involved in the exhibition are talented and their works have merit; however, there are a few whose work makes my heart skip a beat. Introducing Mark Sofilas…

Mark’s sun-drenched scenes of the Mediterranean make my toes curl with excitement – I can almost feel the sand between them, feel a warm coastal breeze on my shoulders, taste the Capri Rosso linger in my mouth, and hear the hum of  grasshoppers amongst the scrub-land. His works are so fantastically evocative place; of relaxed, romantic hillside works on  balmy evenings, of a refreshing swim or boat ride out to sea, of the brightly coloured, unfamiliar, charming flora bursting through sandy soils. I adore them!

Mark Sofilas lives and works in Leeds, some more about him…

“I am originally from Western Australia but migrated to the UK in 2008.  I was an illustrator with over 20 years’ experience in the advertising industry but took the opportunity, on moving to the UK, to turn to fine art, something which I had always wanted to do.

My paintings are very heavily guided by the emotions a particular scene or moment evokes in me. It’s this feeling that I try to convey to the viewer. It might be something as simple as smoke drifting from a chimney pot or silhouette created by a particular light source. It may be the strength or history, which emanates from an everyday object or piece of architecture.

The body of work I’m displaying here [in A Dream of the Sea] is inspired by a recent visit to Italy, featuring The Amalfi coast and the Isle of Capri. I have tried to capture the intense light of day and the magic that intensifies under the cover of night, in this wonderful part of Italy.

Over time I’ve discovered that I can best achieve this by exaggerating/enhancing colour, manipulating perspective slightly and pushing shape and form to arrive, hopefully, at a nicely balanced place, where the image created has not only captured the physical qualities of the scene, but more importantly, the feeling of the occasion… I take photographs of my subjects, but like to rely on memory and imagination, the ultimate goal being, to recreate exactly what I’m feeling onto a flat surface.

I don’t do preliminary drawings, instead I prefer to adopt a more organic approach and design the paintings as I go. This helps the end product retain a freshness and feeling of spontaneity. I always have an image and mood in my mind’s eye that I’m trying to put down and I find that working this way allows me to be flexible and go with any happy accidents that more than likely will occur. It’s these little surprises that I can adopt and learn from and take into my next painting.

I enjoy the journey that this direct and unstructured approach takes me on and find that it enables me to either get close to achieving what I had in mind and heart or on occasion, arrive somewhere unexpected but as rewarding.”

Contrastingly, in both geography and medium, I also adore the work of Lee and Jill Brewster.  They are a couple who live and work in Hurworth, County Durham, and have been working together since graduating in 1991.

They’re showing a new body of sculptural furniture in this exhibition that initially appears too tactile and sculptural to have any functional merit in the domestic or commercial setting. Yet when one sits down with it, touches it, works with it, it tells a story of enjoying and embracing nature with all its seemingly restrictive undulations… that aren’t actually restrictive at all, but refreshingly comfortable, and perspective enhancing. In short, I DESPERATELY want the desk and stool in my home!

Lee Brewster studied furniture design at Loughborough college of Art and Design and is currently studying for an MA at Teesside University in Future Design. Jill Brewster studied surface pattern and textiles, also at Loughborough, and then completed an MA in Creative Multimedia at the school of computing at Teesside University.

“We design and make sculpture, furniture, structures and buildings in response to specific environments. We are interested in making sustainable and emotional connections with nature using structure, texture and pattern.

Our current work is a response to our local environment, specifically the North East heritage coast, the theme of the sea and water frequently appears in our work. We work predominantly in wood and enjoy the free workmanship it allows us, making decisions about structure and aesthetics during the making process.

We are advocates of using responsibly sourced and renewable resources to achieve sustainable futures and promote socially responsible design. Our objective is to design objects and processes that enable a sense of wellbeing, and ultimately improve people’s lives through an emotional connection with nature.

The sculptural pieces of furniture included in this exhibition areinspired by our research into coastal environments and the pattern and textures left behind by the action of the sea.”

Other works in this exhibition that really ‘rock my boat’ in a positive sense, include a series of fabulous illustrations by Katie Edwards.

One of my very first memories is of walking between gigantic sand-dunes on holiday in Morocco. I was two years old, but I guess the landscape was so far removed from my norm (the North York Moors) that the memory stuck. The above print reminds me of the Isola San Giulio, an island within Lake Orta in Piedmont, northwestern Italy (where some friends got married a few years ago). What I adore about Katie Edwards’ work is the playfulness, that awe-infused sense of the extraordinary that is intrinsic to all of her illustrative prints.

There’s a sense of child-like wonderment to her work… as a child when I thought about our place in the world, in the universe I used to wonder if the universe was merely a tiny speck of dust in a giant’s pocket. It’s THAT freedom of imagination that I love about Katie Edwards’ work!

Perhaps inspired by the fantastic setting that she lives and works in… Katie designs and creates her conceptual illustrations from her studio located at the foot of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, using traditional photographic and silkscreen printing techniques.

Katie’s screen prints focus on conceptual ideas, symbolism and metaphors, and her screen printed illustrations reflect her enjoyment for the natural world, evoking thoughtfulness and humour. Katie’s innovative juxtaposition of elements often result in a surreal, humorous or thought-provoking image.

The original silkscreen prints are created from Katie’s most popular designs and developed as a limited print run. Each one being a unique, hand-crafted piece of art, individually printed, signed and numbered by the artist.

Achieving a first class honors in Graphic Arts and Design at Leeds Metropolitan University, Katie has since lived in London and Canada, working with clients such as The Observer; The Telegraph; Economist ; Psychology Magazines; Converse Shoes; National Australia Bank; Boothes Supermarket; Arla Dairy and Delta Airlines. Katie was awarded the Bridgeman Studio Award in 2014, for the illustration ‘Joy’. More recently, Katie was commissioned by E.H.Booths Ltd to create a piece of art in the form of a triptych for their new store in Milnthorpe, Cumbria.

In addition to exhibiting her work nationally internationally, Katie also enjoys success with work such as hand printed greeting cards, soft furnishings, t-shirts and tote bags stocked in galleries and arts centers across the country.

If you’d like to see these works for yourself, and many more beautiful works besides, then get thee to The Witham (3 Horse Market, Barnard Castle, DL12 8LY) before 4pm this Saturday! More info about exhibitions at The Witham here.