01 April 2013

beneath the surface : re-discovering beauty

well, this post is what this blog is all about. looking beneath the surface and re-discovering what has laid buried by the layers that have built up over the years, obscuring the primal beauty, fundamental truth and integrity of a person, object, feeling, idea, culture - anything really. that's what i was thinking when i named this blog. it's what i care about most. a common thread that runs through my life, my existence. my reason for living. 

so when it comes to my new studio it's as important. i've been peeling back these layers to reveal the bare bones, the essence of what my building is. that changes how i feel about it, how i relate to it and ultimately the work i make in it. i've been surprised by a few people's comments or looks of puzzlement  as they wonder why i'm "creating so much work for myself". i don't see it like that. it doesn't feel like that. yes, there is a lot to do and i could have just moved my things into a neatly plastered space, splashed a bit of white paint on the walls and been busy making my work by now. but i'm not. and i'm happy that i'm not. what i have instead is a very dusty building site. there is enough rubble and detritus to fill a large skip and more to come. but beneath it all something of great beauty and discovery is slowly emerging...... something worth waiting for.

why does everything have to be covered up, boxed in, dressed to be something its not, hidden under layers of artifice? i love beauty in its raw state. integrity and honesty, it's more real. this is what i like in life and this is what i like in art, craft and buildings too. i like to see how things are made, how they join together. you know where you are, you know what you've got and life is simpler and more spacious for it.

one of the first things i wanted to do in the studio was to uncover the central structural beam. it had been neatly boxed in with plasterboard creating straight rigid edges. underneath that, it was boxed in again but by victorian panelling and architrave. i wanted to see this beam. it holds up the flat above and the roof above that. i wanted to know what it was. if it was original or had been added at a later date. if it was wood or metal. if it was old, if it was warped, cracked, riddled with woodworm? why would i not want to see and know these things? because if i did, it might mean more "work"? if there's a problem at least i can see it and deal with it and then there is no problem.

so in pulling back the uniform and characterless layers, the facade of over 100 years of changing fashion and how things "should" be done, i have unearthed a beautiful, original wooden beam. to me this beam is important. not only is it part of the structural fabric of the building but it is a tree. it was a tree. it's a connection to nature. this studio is in a town and there is a road that runs outside but it is a historic town and unlike today, many of these older buildings that remain were built from nature with natural materials. why would i want these beautiful organic materials to be covered up and hidden from sight?

so in a similar vein, i've stripped back the rest of the space and discovered some amazing things. for a start, it's become much bigger. there was so much dead space that was boxed in just because it was easier and quicker to make straight lines rather than to wiggle and curve carpentry around the existing structure. the interior of the under stairs cupboard was so much smaller than the outside. that was a joy to remove, albeit very physically demanding. 

pulling all the plasterboard, layers of wallpaper, old fibre board and victorian tongue and groove off the left hand wall has also been hard work but totally worth it. underneath is a thick and beautifully built granite wall with the remains of the original animal hair and mud rendering. most of that crumbled to dust upon touch but it did look as if there was something that had been painted directly on to it . i've kept the small fragments to look at more closely. and in revealing this wall i spotted a piece of wood embedded in the granite running behind the victorian panelling and more modern under stairs cupboard. i noticed a little tiny singed patch and it occurred to me that it could be the end of a lintel above a fire place. this was very exciting but puzzling because there isn't a chimney on the roof and i wondered if it had been altered over the years. i found a little hole just big enough to jiggle a crowbar into and it seemed to go back a long way. then i  made that hole just big enough to squeeze a gloved hand into, and pulled out a palmful of sooty earth with some feathers and sticks. so exciting. this meant the under stairs cupboard had to go and the victorian panelling behind that. after a lot of crowbarring i could see that i'd found the original fireplace, all walled in with mud and granite. 

after digging out a vast amount of earth and a huge pile of granite stones there is a lovely large fireplace and a chimney that runs up through the thick wall and emerges out on the roof of the adjoining building. it all needs re-pointing which will be fun to learn. this fireplace with it's slightly curved wooden lintel transforms the feel of the space. even without a fire it makes it feel more warm and homely. and i love the space all the more for it. it's beautiful. it will be even more beautiful. i've always thought that beauty is a fundamental human need to fill the soul. and this in turn will feed the work i make in this space.

i have a quote that i refer back to time and time again. i used it to conclude my dissertation many years ago and it has been pinned on the wall of every studio space i've ever had. so far, it hasn't appeared on my blog.

it is a excerpt from a lecture that meret oppenheim gave at 'the federal institute of technology' in zurich in 1983. it formed part of a conference called 'science and art - contrasts and identities'.

"when nature has stopped being treated as the enemy of man, when the battle of the sexes has become an unknown, when the so-called feminine traits that men share in full measure - feelings, moods, intuition - have been fully exploited, when the significance of woman's contribution to the preservation and development of human society has been recognised, when comfort is no longer mistaken for culture, when beauty has become a need again - then, at last, poetry and art will automatically come into their own again, even if the veil of longing always lies upon them like an eternal promise".

last saturday i was interviewed again by the lovely lizzie on the funkin' arts radio show. a bit giggly but some more stories about my studio discoveries. you can listen to it here

taking down the false ceiling - showing the under stairs cupboard before

peeling back the layers on the same wall 

uncovering the beam

under the plaster board - animal hair and mud render

investigating the under stairs cupboard

finding old strip light bulbs, painted tongue and groove where once there were shelves. level with the second shelf down is the end of what i was hoping would be a wooden lintel and beneath that, the hole i poked the crowbar into!

black cobwebs and a 1950s curtain

frantically pulling away the tongue and groove to make a hand-sized hole to investigate further

running out of floor space....

pulling out the back of the under stairs cupboard and removing the first stone - very sooty!

behind the under stairs cupboard

unbelievable excitement and covered in soot by now!

i have a fire place i really do - hooray!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Jo I am so excited for you -I totally see why you are doing all this for your studio and think it's awesome! xxx