A flying start – migrating into the new school year

It might not actually quite be the start of the school year anymore, but it is in its way a flying start. 

The end of school clear out inevitably means empty display spaces come the start of the new school.  This year I decided to make an immediate splash in the biggest space in the school with rapidly made charcoal drawings of birds made by the fourteen-year-olds I teach.

Now as we head into the autumn season of migration in the bird world, it seems appropriate to share the result online.  It’s not an easy display to photograph well, but in real life the transparency of the paper and the darkness of the images combine for ever changing results throughout the day as the light outside changes.

Reaching a conclusion, and reading a poem in public

I’ve posted before about the commission that I’ve been working on this year. A piece involving three canvases that together are close to four metres wide. This week finally saw the installation of the work in their new home, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholingistics in Nijmegen.


You never quite know how artworks are going to look in a new location so it is always just a bit of an edgy moment when you pull them out of the packaging and lean them up against the wall and step back to look. On this occasion the result has proved to be undoubtedly a move in the positive direction. The work itself of course hasn’t changed, but the location it has received is on a beautifully spacious white wall that is positively flooded with light. I could have asked for little more, the three panels do look, even if I say so myself, beautiful.

The paintings were given an official  presentation moment on Wednesday afternoon, along with the also recently purchased work by Alex Dima. It was a chance to thank those involved, but also a moment to say something about the ideas and intentions behind the paintings. I am always a bit wary to say too much in such circumstances, I don’t want to give the idea that there is just one route to go. However I am also keen, if I can, to offer the viewer a way into interpreting the work. On this occasion I chose for a short poem, it touches on a number of ideas and reference points that have been important whilst creating the work, but does so in a way that hopefully opens doors to interpretation rather than closing them.

I do not pretend to be a writer or a poet, but I have to admit to being quite satisfied with the resulting three verses, it was certainly well received at the opening!


Flight and escape, contemporary themes

Uncertain destinations, safety behind barriers

I look to the landscape

The backdrop of our lives

A rush of wings

Movement passing


A narrow aperture opening

Reduced geometric architecture

Refined beauty in our man made line

Engaging the serene beauty beyond

Crisp, hard edges marking space

Illusions in the décor


Nature meets the line

Clear blue sky and searing heat

A solitary cloud drifts

A rush of wings move the air

Lost in the colour

Swift movement passing by


Studio day – walls and birds commission

I’ve been working for a for a few weeks now on a commission project.  Progress is inevitably just steady as I try to fit studio days in amongst other commitments.  Its and interesting project as the three paintings that I will ultimately be making are all pretty much existing work, only they are much smaller.  Some colours are changing in the larger works, and the birds will inevitably turn out differently but the basic wall structure across the three canvases that together will be about four metres wide will remain true to the smaller versions.


So far with the first two canvases under way progress is fine.  The physicality of the curving wall in the empty landscapes is particularly satisfying to see develop as that seems to be working in quite a different manner to the smaller versions.


Birds, birds and more birds in art

For a while now birds have featured in my own paintings as a kind of metaphor for nature and our relationship with the environment around us.  In fact I am in the process of scaling up a number of my bird compositions for a commission that I am currently working on.  The studio wall shows the early days of this process.


matissebirdsMy birds are somewhat panicked flocks flying across empty landscapes filled with curving walls that carve up the space and flow from one canvas to another.  Whilst working on this project I have been coming across other birds in art, firstly Matisse’s paper cuts in the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam, but then also the sound and video installation made by Marcus Coates at the Fabrica Gallery as part of the Brighton festival. The installation makes use of recordings of people imitating the sounds of the bird dawn chorus that have been greatly slowed down. The human recordings are then speeded up to produce a bird like sound.  All interesting stuff, but when combined with the video that has also been speeded up it really makes for a fascinating combination.

The film below documents the process and gives an impression of how it all fits together. It is well worth a look.

I don’t remember this bit at teacher training

As a parent of teenage children I am only too familiar with that feeling you get when they want to go into town without you for the first time or they are going to go on a school trip to Amsterdam and are going to be given a hour of free time to explore. You are kind of excited for them, but at the same time anxious.

That’s the parent’s experience with their own children. A teacher’s experience (with someone else’s children) can at times be somewhat different.

Teacher training teaches you about your subject, about didactics and, if you are lucky, about classroom organization. It doesn’t teach you much about the burden of responsibility you sometimes feel for other peoples’ children and the finer points of crowd control. The importance of these last two points was brought home to me recently on a five day school trip I went on.

In short, we were travelling from the Netherlands to Oxford in the UK by bus and boat. Staying in a sports an education complex and on one day making a trip into Oxford for a tour, a boat trip and some shopping.  It all sounds quite nice so far, until I mention that our party of children was 135 twelve year olds…..yes you read it right! I should point out that I was one of a team of ten staff members, but that is still an awful lot of little faces to count!


Looking back, the trip went very well, mostly only minor problems of homesick children to deal with. But there is always in the background that weight of responsibility I mentioned at the start, coupled with skills in crowd control. On no day did I feel these factors more than on our day in Oxford.

135 excited twelve year olds in the busy Oxford city centre for the day.  I word be lying if I didn’t say that I felt a bit stressed by the responsibility at times. At the end of the day we amassed the whole group again before heading for the bus park, head counted again and then once more, just to be sure, before making our way through the packed streets in the drizzle just as it got dark. Our sprawling crocodile of children of children being shepherded by myself and my colleagues.  If you have ever watched one of those films of huge clouds of birds swopping through the air together, the overall mass of the flock constantly changing…..well yes it was kind of like that, except perhaps the birds are a little more in control of their situation than it felt we were.


You know you are doing something exceptional, or possibly crazy,  when you notice people stopping in the street to watch.  On their faces a mixture of disbelief and pity.  One couple stopped to watch and as I passed simply said “how many?”,  “135” I said, the lady said nothing, simply stared with mouth open, and the man laughed and “good luck!”.  When we got back to the buses, it was time for the umpteenth head count of the day, 135 onto the bus, on more count once they were all sitting down, 135 again. We could leave with the whole flock.