During August 2018, Jean Wilson, Matterdale’s esteemed Herdwick sheep breeder, left me in charge of her sheep in the field at the back of our house. Feeding the sheep became a daily event enjoyed by visiting grandchildren. They loved the way that the chickens avoided being stood on as they joined the sheep eating at the trough. The highlight, however, was giving a bottle to Frank, the orphaned pet lamb. This turned out to be a treat too for Millie, our dog, who’d suck along with Frank as evidenced in this video clip!
Michelle Castles is a sculptor based in Dockray who has spent the last 20 years observing the human form and capturing its essence.
I love my job. I get to sit in a warm, bright studio overlooking the Cumbrian Fells, working with wire all day. It wasn’t always like this.
Today, while I work on the completion of a large sculpture, The Music Conductor, to reside outside of a music school, I think about my first studio. It was on the top floor of a disused warehouse in a busy city centre, the only window overlooking the concrete blocks of a multi storey car park, and the only sign of life, the odd pigeon.
I think about how excited and terrified I was rejecting suburban living, the security of a regular job to pursue my dream of being an artist. How difficult it had been to scrape together a month’s rent for the studio space from a back breaking evening job in a Chinese kitchen.
Then I remember sitting on the pavement outside, head in hands and wondering what to do when I turned up to find a padlocked door and bailiffs looking for a landlord who had illegally sublet the building and disappeared with all the rent money.
Who knew that when a college tutor picked up a piece of discarded wire mesh from a corridor floor and threw it at me saying “do something with this”, I’d still be “doing something” with it 23 years later. That it would have sparked off a passion for an art form that has kept me focused through every difficult turn in my career. The only way to succeed is to be obsessed.
And how do we measure success anyway? It’s good to get paid for your work. To know that someone likes it enough to part with some money. And we all need to live. But there is another success that sends a greater feeling right through to your soul. It comes with knowing your art, mastering your tools, getting those shapes just right. Like forming a foot, toes, cartledge, sinew and bone, and then being weirdly convinced that you can actually smell it. That is success.
Roald Dahl said “ the secret of life is to become very very good at something that’s very very hard to do.”
Well I’ve always loved a challenge and I know that means putting in the hours, though sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of everything else. It’s the same story for every artist I meet. Tremendous highs, crushing lows. The exhilaration of setting up an exhibition, tremendous hard work invested in every piece, and the sinking disappointment if nothing sells. Because it’s not just the artwork on show, it’s a bit of your soul as well so rejection becomes very personal.
What we are making are little pieces of luxury, feasts for the eyes. Nothing essential for everyday living. Art is the last thing on the list to purchase once all other needs are met.
How can we convince local councils that an arts budget is still essential, when money is desperately needed in other places?
But patrons of the arts are so important. That is, any person or any organisation, private or public, who is willing to dip into their pockets. Those patrons are our ‘enablers’. Art must be experienced, through sight, hearing or otherwise, and they are the ones who make it possible.
To give credence to the artist who cannot and should not have to suppress a talent which enriches everyone’s experience of life is surely worth investing in.
Wild Painting Anyone ?
Gina Farncombe is a landscape artist based in the Matterdale valley.
Two years ago Gina Farncombe and Frankie Cranfield, accomplished local artists, decided to work towards an exhibition of paintings. They live either side of the Skiddaw massive, which lies just to the north of the Cumbrian town of Keswick. Gina in Matterdale. Frankie in Caldbeck. So “BACK a Skidda” became the front as well. Their aim was to paint as much as possible “En Plein Air”. In other words to put on as many clothes as possible, organise painting equipment so it could be carried up into the fells, tramp through snow, rain, hail or blazingly hot sun up a 1000 ft fell and to paint their subjects how they saw and felt about them rather than using a camera which in their opinion possesses neither heart or soul.
So paint they did.
“Artists probably are the most selfish people in the world. They become totally absorbed by their subjects - in fact they are addicted to the paint and when not actually painting they are thinking about it both in waking time and also their dreaming time. We loved losing ourselves in this project,” she says.
Two summers and two winters later Frankie and Gina exhibited more than 60 paintings at Threlkeld Village Hall to the sound of Caribbean steel pans on September 14th 2018. It was not the standard, rather quietly sophisticated fine wine sipping private art exhibition. It was more like a celebration of the raw beauty of this place we call home and the energy of the people, animals and trees that live within it.
It was this exhibition that inspired Gina’s new Wild Painting initiative.
“The most creative thing to have emerged from our Back and Front of Skiddaw exhibition is the birth of a group of fellow artists and enthusiasts called Wild Painting. We launched ourselves with a big bang on Bonfire Day, November 5th 2018. Eight wild painters were to be seen in Matterdale splashing paint onto canvases on Watermillock Common and down towards Aira Force. Gina’s Art studio shed in Dockray was the epicentre for re-fuelling of paint, turps, cake and coffee and much wonderful art work poured out from the Fells onto canvas and paper.
“The thing about painting outside in all weathers and in all environments,” says Gina. “Be it a heavy industrial site in the outskirts of Blackburn or an idyllic sunlit Cumbrian tarn - they all have their unique story to tell through the eyes of their artist onlooker. The artist experiences the sounds, smell, taste and sight of their subjects. That experience gets transferred onto canvas via paint, charcoal or pastel. Therefore, you, the onlooker will be either grabbed, repelled, disinterested or blown away by what you see. That is why I believe the paintbrush will go directly to the heart whereas the camera just records.”
Gina is currently exhibiting at Theatre by the Lake with portraits from GoFigure, a group of life drawing artists who meet each week at Braithwaite Village Hall. The exhibition at Theatre by the Lake is called Identity and runs until after Christmas 2018.
To find out more about about Gina’s Wild Painting group see www.ginafarncombeartist.co.uk