identify my destiny
Nico - or Christa Paffgen - has long been a part of my life, but recently I realised I knew very little about her, beyond the Velvet Underground femme fatale facade. I've been reading about her, and listening to the solo albums she made. Mostly when I think about her I think about a woman who fails to get support from other women – she is more at home in the company of men – who she can make fancy her, who can help her get drugs – although she seems pretty good at getting those for herself.
The thing missing with her is self esteem. Is this the legacy of the rape she endured as a young woman? The loss of her dad? She is beautiful and striking – and she knows this, but she almost wants to downplay this – dye her hair, make herself look frightening rather than the beautiful Aryan blonde. She is not appreciated or valued for her musical talent – apart from later on, when John Cale praises her unique vocal style and musicality. But even he is sort of dismissive of her too – she’s an awkward, difficult woman, a junkie, obstinate and hanging on to the things she needs – drugs, and the opportunity to perform her songs.
I read all the books and articles and I still have no idea who she is. She seems like a big blonde doll, a version of Georgina, blinking now and then, but not changing her expression much, still as a statue, often off her tits. So what is there of interest? I’m not sure. But something is pulling at me.
Kev Howard is an angry old man – although he isn’t that old, and his anger is mainly an activist’s anger, on behalf of others as well as himself. I had a fascinating afternoon with him in the Boro’s redesigned Baker Street café.
I’ve known Kev a long time: we met fifteen years ago, when he and I travelled to Finland together as part of a Baltic exchange of poets and musicians. He appeared at the airport with a long tubular piece of luggage, which turned out to be a didgeridoo. I remember him teasing me.: “Did you think they were golf clubs?” He was, and is, great to work with. But it seems there’s even more to him than I thought.
KH is a photographer and a musician – in that order, he insists, although he began his creative life (and initially earned a living) as a musician. Since 2010, photography has been his main creative driver and also his bread and butter. He’s currently doing an MA in Fine Art at Teesside University. This could make him sound like a dilettante, but that’s the last thing he is – his attention to detail is evident in everything he does.
Kev photographs bands in performance, and has a remarkable collection of portraits, poets being a speciality. He is also a stunning landscape photographer – nobody captures a north eastern sky like he does. Living in Saltburn gives many opportunities, but he is also a very patient man when it comes to waiting for the right moment.
“You need patience and mindfulness. Light is everything,” he tells me.
He learned photography early in his life, as a student of photography and film making after leaving school with no qualifications. “I started excelling instead of failing.”
The other thing about Kev is that he is a disability rights activist, and often works with people who are excluded from the mainstream. He speaks passionately about what he considers to be the regressive state of disability rights in this country. He lived in Holland in the 90s and considers this, and other European countries, to be way ahead of us in this regard. He believes we have a history of “shuttering out” people with disabilities: in the past, in institutions, and now in more subtle ways, through benefit capping and restricted employment opportunities.
He knows what he’s talking about: all his life, he has experienced Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC) – a term used to describe over 300 conditions that cause multiple curved joints in areas of the body at birth. He has had 55 major operations as a result of AMC each one shifting his centre of balance, so that he has had to learn to walk 22 times. He documented this experience in his exhibition d-Formed
I thought I knew Kev reasonably well, but this exhibition reveals so much more about the visceral and psychological effects of the many surgeries he has undergone. It also reveals the determination and persistence of an artist who wants people to understand something important. I asked him where this came from.
“I had very strong parents,” he tells me. “My mother was brilliant: she was a realist, and she was determined I was going to be independent.” This seems to have been the element that engendered his “can do” attitude. It’s interesting that he also learned his first musical instrument, a dulcimer, at 18, because a musician friend refused to see any possible limitations.
He lived in America for a year (199-2001) camped on the side of a mountain in an American school bus without water or electricity. It was an isolated spot:
“One of the best memories I have is of waking up to find a herd of deer grazing all around the bus. It was awesome.”
Kev also learned the instrument that most people would now associate with him, the didgeridoo. “With the didge, you’re the instrument,” he says. “I’m a contemporary didgeridoo player, although I have the greatest respect for the culture it comes from.”
He’s a very positive guy, but of course, he’s had his own struggles. He fought and won a battle with alcoholism.
“A promise I made to somebody I loved very much who passed away keeps me straight.”
He has also struggled with accepting his body shape.
“Partners have helped,” he says, recalling how he came to reject the prosthetic hand he had been given. He replaced it with a much more practical hook: all part of learning to love his own body as it is.
He is concerned about the mental health issues which are cropping up around body shaming and body fascism, as endless images of the “perfect body” are flashed at us, particularly the young. He also has concerns about clusters of childhood diseases and genetic disorders which crop up in areas with heavy industry. He cites research done on US companies who set aside a percentage of their profits to compensate families affected by pollutants, which cause cancers and deformities.
It’s all a bit scary, especially as Kev reiterates that deformity in all life forms is on an ever increasing rise. This applies to flora, to fauna and to aquatic life. I know this is the case, but when Kev tells you about it, it’s hard not to feel the urgency.
Emma Trotter is part of the exciting developments around food and community involvement which have been happening recently in the wonderful Smeltery café in Middlesbrough’s mima art gallery. It was in this lovely setting, on a sunny June morning, that my interview with Emma took place.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I come from Stockton, and I went to art college in Hartlepool. Then I moved down to Brighton to study Editorial Photography, but then realised the course wasn’t quite right for me. I came back home for a reassessment, and then decided to study Fashion at Northumbria University. I was more interested in trend forecasting - I’d been doing working as a visual merchandiser, where I had a rare amount of creative scope. Everything I’d done previously melded into it. It was a great experience – I did a lot of travelling, and made a great connection with a company in Paris.
"My boss was a fascinating woman, a big inspiration for me."
After I graduated I moved to London and started working for this company. I was very lucky – I probably didn’t appreciate it at the time. It’s a tough, very competitive industry but somehow I landed on my feet. My boss was a fascinating woman, a big inspiration for me. She’s still working and traveling all over the world in her late 70s, a specialist in her field. I feel very privileged to have worked with her. Her pathway wasn’t the common route either – when I compared myself to her, it helped me to shift, to see how different experiences meld together. This was the early 2000s. Now I think people are more attractive in terms of employability if they have a lot of different experiences.
"I went to India for 4 months"
My pathway has been undulating – I finished that job, and decided to travel. I went to India for 4 months. I left my job on the promise that I could freelance when I got back. I worked with an NGO in Delhi, which employed women who had been affected by HIV, either themselves or other family members. They were taught jewellery making skills, and were highly adept: it was also a social opportunity, independence, a chance to leave the family home and meet other women. It was a very inspiring time for me. I also visited other small organisations enabling and supporting women through craft. I decided I wanted to set up a business of my own. I thought I’d be working with craftspeople in India then promoting them back home, have a café, an arts space and all that … and at the same time Luke was setting up here, and he asked me if I would be interested .. a Community Art Café in Middlesbrough, in an art gallery!
A few twists and turns later, it felt important to do something here, where it could potentially make more of an impact, and returning also felt right.
A lot of young people move to London – what do you think about that?
Unfortunately, that’s where the work is – and maybe they don’t get the right support to set up for themselves up here. Although it has really changed. I moved back here from London in 2016 and I really noticed how things are different now. I came back to start something! Luke and I got together romantically at that time and I thought, yes, I can get involved in this whole venture.
"We wanted to combine everything – food, community, art"
What’s the main thrust behind The Smeltery?
We wanted to combine everything – food, community, art. It’s such an iconic building. And we were starting from scratch – we’re very different from the original café. I’ve always loved The Waiting Room (link) – in fact, I worked there when I was studying. I loved what Luke had created there – especially the Sunday nights, with performance and food. It had such a homely feeling, hidden away, but a really great place. Everything was prepared with love, always fresh and wholesome. That’s what we aim for her, using local ingredients, taking care with the preparation, knowing where everything comes from. We get a lot of good feedback. (NB The Smeltery is an artist commission by Luke Harding as part of mima's new direction as the UK centre for Arte Util (Useful Art))
Do you have any plans for the future in The Smeltery?
We’d like to do more evening events – music, poetry, with food. We’d also like to do more community related stuff. We’ve made some links with North Ormesby Youth Projects, having young people come and work in the kitchen, and that’s been great. While I was in London, I did some work with Kids Company, some mentoring and befriending, and I really enjoyed that. That could be something I might do here, in some way.
Plus we have a really exciting development happening with a three month residency at the Orange Pip Kitchen– the café in the newly reopened Town Hall.
What about your personal plans?
I think I’d like to develop my leadership skills – maybe through the Clore Programme (LINK). Personal development is important to me. And of course, I’d like to get involved in more community projects. I’m interested in the creative use of food waste, in the politics of food generally, and I need to understand how I might work on that. I’d also like to do more travelling and have been looking into the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust awards. https://www.wcmt.org.uk
They look like a brilliant idea of helping people travel with a purpose.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’m a Buddhist! A Nichiren Buddhist, actually, which has a chanting practice. It’s an important part of my life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichiren_Buddhism
Cathie Sprague is a former Trapeze Artist, Dramatherapist, Writer and extremely creative woman. It’s a fresh morning and I’m in sunny Saltburn-by the-Sea to meet Cathie at her seaside apartment.
You’re a busy lady, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on transcribing my experiences of trapeze into visual language. When I performed, and now teach, trapeze, there is something about that experience, about being embodied, completely embodied, owning and inhabiting my body that I find totally fascinating. Particularly for women, this can be a really empowering experience and I want to translate it.
How did you become interested in trapeze?
At eighteen, I worked for an organisation called Playspace in Bradford. This was a children’s charity which delivered play opportunities for children all over the city. We prioritized creating relevant play opportunities in the best way that we could and in the most deprived areas. I ran a print room and a darkroom, made puppets and created shows. A friend and I attended the only circus school in this country at the time. A group called Archaos came over from France and caused a massive splash and then an International company called Ra Ra Zoo ran a workshop in London and that’s where I met the trapeze.
Was it love at first sight?
In a way, yes, but it wasn’t necessarily sight, it was about being; can I get my body to do this? Can I hold my own weight with my hands? It was a physical challenge which put me right back into my body. Born in Canada, moving to the Midlands at the age of one and then living on a farm, I was an embodied child who, together with my three brothers, was used to the wild freedom of the land. But I was socialised as a girl into not doing anything particularly physical until, once again, it felt incredible to push at the boundary of what can be achieved working, practising and co-operating creatively with trapeze.
Did you know at the time that you would always work with trapeze?
I knew that I loved it and I knew that I wanted more. I toured with Snapdragon Circus, which was my first experience in a travelling show. Then I designed a trapeze rig. Growing up on a farm, I was used to handling equipment so my doubles partner and I constructed a set and formed a company, ‘Skinning the Cat.’ We toured widely, in Europe and beyond. Our first show challenged the use of wild animals in circus: we used the concept of animalistic physicality in our performance, becoming the animals breaking free. I performed web rope, doubles trapeze, solo trapeze and dance trapeze. Doubles trapeze is the complete embodiment of trust, dangling your own life off somebody else, and I was the flyer. It was addictive! My body was being stretched to its limit. I’m better in the air in terms of movement: as a dancer and performer, I always feel I can express more on the trapeze bar than on the ground. The combination of aerial and physical theatre was perfect for me and I naturally progressed into this area forming ‘Chimaera,trapeze and fire theatre’ with a colleague.
I teach trapeze and I love teaching it. It’s there in everything I do. I know freedom begins with physical movement, I watch people move through and on with their bodies in artistic and therapeutic practice every day.
How has your passion for circus informed your art?
I completely enjoy the physicality of painting murals onto walls: it’s big and expressive and I’m using my body. This is key. I love to create work and then place it in a performative context, where the body can express story. After discovering circus this became integrated, creating backdrops, costumes, props, sets etc and used in the performance itself. I have explored many visual art forms, losing myself in printmaking, particularly etching for a while, then textiles creating banners for a trapeze rig, puppetry, masks, bead weaving, anything that can be used in performance or its publicity. Recently, my art is becoming sculptural. I adore Hannah Hanson’s work: it's a great example of integration.
Which artistic medium do you prefer to work in?
My Dramatherapy practice has enabled me to see that it’s ok to be cross art-form, as an artist. Framing my creative interests through theatre and performance has helped contain a kind of freedom where all skills and mediums can be valued. I am fascinated by patterns and Op-art. I am drawn to work in black and white using ink, fabrics, acrylics and oils, although I like to experiment with any materials and textures. Monochrome defines a boundary in all my work in therapeutic and psychological ways. I try to find ways to include and explore movement in my art: I like the paradox of a static picture having movement, and am interested in what happens in between a pattern to create it. If I decide to, I tend to introduce colour in blocks. I love to work collaboratively with other artists. I have a great love of nature and Saltburn Woods inspire me, earth, trees and water, particularly streams. I am a creature of nature and feel the need to express this at the core of my work.
This is an exciting time in your life. How will your art progress in the future?
I want to explore visual work that can capture physical and psychological aspects of movement in trapeze performance, examining how body and mind can be in harmony. I aim to create large artworks which are sculptural and transcribe this experience, encapsulating presence. I’d love to exhibit my work more in community spaces. I’m interested in constructing rigs to hang artwork, pop-up galleries incorporating puppetry and kinaesthetic art; that fine line of static into movement, the moment of owning the body, Meyerhold’s ‘stance, refusal, action.’ I am excited by paradox.
Cathie Sprague is a Saltburn based artist practising in the disciplines of Performance, Dramatherapy and Fine Art. cathiespraguecreativeartist.co.uk email@example.comFacebook High Seas Trapeze
Sade Sangowawa is the founder and CEO of CiC (Cultures in Community), a Stockton-based community interest company working to advance economic and social independence for people from black and ethnic minority communities. Every year, she organises Taste of Africa, an event that “celebrates everything that is positive about Africa and Africans.”
When did you come to the North East?
I moved to Tees Valley from London in 1994 and when I got here, there weren’t that many black people. I felt people were friendly, but my kids were the only black children in their school. It was very difficult to get a job, even though I was highly qualified. I ended up trying everywhere. Then an agency in Hartlepool called me up. I didn’t know where it was – people kept saying – you don’t want to go to Hartlepool! But I was really pleased somebody had offered, so I went for the interview and met this amazing couple, and they got me an interview at British Steel as a Purchasing Clerk. They kept saying – it’s such a low level job for your qualifications – and I said it doesn’t matter! I just need a job. I need to get out of my house, do a job, go back home. I had an interview with the manager at British Steel and they kept saying I was over qualified, more qualified than them. And I said Look! just give me a job. I’ll do it very well, I won’t leave. So I persuaded them, and that’s how I got my first job up here.
What made you set up CiC?
"My children would bring back questions that teachers had asked them at school.."
One of the people who was sending my information out told me that even though my qualifications were better than others, she never got a call back for me. I said – I understand, it’s the usual. It’s discrimination, or people being uncomfortable with people from other cultures. My children would bring back questions that teachers had asked them at school, or I’d be asked questions around what is this, is it an African language? And I’d think, well what’s an African language? And they’d look at me puzzled, as if they were thinking – well you should know, you’re an African! And I’d think – I’m from Nigeria! It’s a continent not a country. Even though I would make a joke of it, for me it was becoming ridiculous. I thought, I wonder what the perception is of a black kid in a classroom? And people are not getting jobs.
I thought how do you educate a group of people about another group of people? Without forcing it down their throats, letting them make their minds up about this group of people. People said, that’s what the legislation is there for. But I thought, that’s not it: if you know how to push the legislation, you know how far you can push it before you are classified racist. But I thought if you promote the positive side of black people enough, people will see the positive side, rather than what they see on TV or hear on the radio, they can genuinely make up their minds.
This fitted perfectly with Black History Month, which is about the contributions of black people to this great nation. I thought, how can I make this a positive experience? Make it fun, make it visual, not too much talking. Let’s do food, music, fashion, everything that portrays culture, art, people and let’s see how it goes.
The thing to bring people together is food. Food is food, rice is rice! So we had an evening in October 2004, in the International Centre in Stockton. We had food, arts, fashion show, poetry, drama, music, dance. Black people in the community were contributing: doctors, social workers, community workers – people who had come here, and were contributing to the economy.
I didn’t think it would work. In a predominantly white environment, I was trying to push what I thought was the right thing. But by 6.30 the place was full, you couldn’t move.
That’s how the event started. It was a way to break down stereotypes for black people. For black people to showcase themselves, and everything that is good about the culture itself, not the stereotype of what they see. If we continue to show the positive side, I felt, then there will be a snowball effect, people will start to learn and maybe ask more questions, research more, ask themselves why and educate themselves. That was why I started it.
Have you run the event every year since 2004?
Yes – with sweat, tears, frustration, anger, joy, determination, stubbornness! There have been times when it’s been challenging. There have been times when it hasn’t been the flavour of the month with local authorities. A lack of support. But I met Dr Ashok Kumar, the MP, in 2005. He said – we fought this battle of equality – its not easy – we’ve had to fight. He said you’re going to face big challenges and some people are not going to like it! But don’t give up. It’s not the numbers that stand, it’s the determination of those who are willing to stay the length of the fight. You’re a black woman. You’re going to get it! But things will change, and maybe they will change faster, if you make a stand.
At the time I thought – come on. It’s not going to be that difficult! But it has been that difficult. But we have opened minds, or helped people to be more open minded, to think outside the box. That’s a change happening.
What has been the effect of Taste of Africa on members of the African community?
The event has given a sense of pride and identity for black people, for black youth, for work. We’re talking about integration and community cohesion, about black youth standing and being proud to be who they are. I started an event called Proud To Be Me, which came out of Taste of Africa. It was focused on the black youth and saying to them you have to be proud of who you are. And yes, I know, you are in the minority when you go to school – but you have to know who you are and be proud, or you have to live by somebody else’s label. Gradually those kids went on to perform at Taste of Africa, they did drama on slavery, on stereotyping, on bullying. Standing in front of a thousand people! They would do poetry, and gradually I forced them to do a fashion show, using the clothes Africans wear. At first they didn’t like it, but the reaction they got, people clapping, boosted their confidence: they felt good about it.
"You need networks, to support you.."
Later, we started looking at work experience, especially when we started to get a lot of migrants coming in. We started thinking - how do you get work experience? If nobody will give you employment, and they want you to have work experience? So we started using ToA to help people get work experience, so they had understanding of British culture up to a point, and also informal mentors. They would have an understanding of how the British system works, around time, around reliability, around how to act. People got that through becoming part of the event, contributing their time, groups doing the cooking, learning how to manage people, and they developed networks. You need networks, to support you, indirectly or directly to move you on. It sort of evolved. It’s not just about the event any more.
CiC as an organisation puts people into employment and helps them move on. Taste of Africa has moved into Cultures, so it’s become an all year round thing now.
"There’s a lot of discrimination, it’s systemic."
Do you think things have changed?
Yes, actually. I think a lot of people have benefitted. People are a lot more aware of black people now. They are still marginalised, for various reasons. But awareness of black people, awareness of where they come from, awareness that they can be doctors, lawyers, accountants etc – people are a lot more aware. This has changed perception a lot. Has that translated into employment? No. It’s hard – there are certain professions, such as doctor or nursing, these are the professions black people go into because it’s easier to get a job. Yes, there’s over representation there. But in terms of other professions, it’s very difficult. There’s a lot of discrimination, it’s systemic. We have seen an improvement. There have been changes, but it’s not good enough.
Has your approach changed over the years?
I still feel passionate – and angry! Passionate because there are other groups in BME but they are smaller, maybe disadvantaged. It can become survival of the fittest. The smaller groups now need to fight for their rights within the system. That’s difficult because to want to do that you need to be community focused, as much as when I came in 2000, or in 1994. But the landscape has changed – people are more individualistic, the priorities are different. It’s more personal, my family first, and that’s happening a lot. The landscape has changed, and people are a bit more enlightened.
What have you given up?
A lot! My career – what I wanted to do as a person. Some time with the kids – my kids see me as everybody’s mother, or aunty! They are fine with it – my kids, all the young people, have realised what a massive influence ToA has been on their lives, career, in developing them as people. They all have empathy for people, willing to give, communications, resilience – they are all linked! When anything happens, they are all linked to each other. They have become friends. So sacrifice yes, but it has helped my kids to grow, it has altered their lives.
Do you think you have a certain style which helps you in your work?
I have always felt it’s important to be very well-dressed. I think it has helped me not to be overlooked, by both men and women. Maybe it’s about being extremely confident and happy with the way you look. I’ve also had to develop a more assertive style than comes naturally to me. I was brought up to be humble and reserved, but I have learned that there are times when it’s very important to be assertive and speak up for yourself. I think this attitude may have put some people off, but it has also helped me to get attention and interest in the projects I am involved in. And people always come to my events!
Do you think there have been influences from childhood that have shaped you?
Well perhaps I always felt different. I was mad about lawn tennis as a girl and played for my school, then my state, then my country. My dad really supported me and really, I was his favourite child. I was sent to the US for university and managed to complete my degree in two and a half years, by doing extra courses during summer. I am very driven, and I never give up! When I came to the UK, I had to start over again, but I had a plan – it’s very important to have a plan. Plus I think I like to show people that it can be done, if you are determined. So you can be successful, if you just keep going.
Mary Lou Springstead is unequivocally not a nasty woman! Prior to meeting Mary Lou, on a cool July afternoon at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, I perused her website and laughed out loud at this analogy. She is without doubt one of the kindest, generous and warmest women I know, an accomplished woman and an accomplished artist.
Mary Lou, tell me what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m having an exhibition, with my husband, next year. This is my first two person show, so I’ve got some things that I’m working on for that; a self portrait, a portrait of us and I’m going to produce work that’s reflective of our relationship and our love of art. Also, I’m working on my third zine, ‘Take the Last Brexit to Trumpland.’ I’m going back home for three weeks and travelling inspires me, this will give me some good source material. I’m an acrylic lady, on canvas, although I sometimes use pen and ink and watercolours on paper.
When and where is your exhibition?
The exhibition is March 2018 at the Python Gallery, in Gosford Street Middlesbrough. It was going to be a solo show, but then Morbid managed to wiggle his way in. In fact, Peter Heselton, the curator, suggested it, he said, ‘oh, you both should have a show together because you met each other through art, and people love that!’ So now I have to share a show with Morbid. I’m collaborating with my Husband but essentially, I work alone.
Your paintings adorn my walls and, needless to say, I love them. What are you currently painting?
At the moment, I’m in-between, I feel. I’ve just finished off a large painting of the mythological river hag, Peg Powler, and then a few portraits of some artists who, you know, people may not be that familiar with, that I find inspiring. Right now, I’m like, what next? Apart from the show, I’m still exploring themes of identity and where I come from so I’m working on a mobile piece which involves having round, circular canvases with scenes of different places I grew up in, from photo references and maps. This will be incorporated with scenes from Middlesbrough.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Brooksville, Florida, and I lived there until I was eighteen. This is central Florida, just north of Tampa, small-town, I grew up in the woods; horses and cows.
When did you realise you were an Artist?
I can actually remember, around when I was sixteen, that’s what I wanted to do. I had always drawn and been creative, although when I was little girl I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then couldn’t bear the thought of animals that were hurt or suffering. I had a good art teacher, Gail Coleman, in high school who inspired me. My Dad immediately said I wouldn’t make any money unless I became a medical illustrator! My art teacher used ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,’ by Betty Edwards. What really cinched the deal for me was that emotionally, I was going through so much and drawing and painting soothed me, I could express something through art, it was calming and I was good at it.
What was your first artistic piece?
I wrote and illustrated a big, long-tooth alien story as part of a gifted programme at school. Then, in high school I won some awards and worked on a particularly large painting in my bedroom, listening to Kate Bush, of a model lounging in front of a seascape using unreal colours and spirals. I made artwork for my friends too, embellishing jackets, which had a great response.
How did you further your artistic education?
My parents didn’t allow me to go to an arts university so I went to a liberal arts university, meaning I majored in studio art, but took a variety of other courses too. I found this quite stressful, I wanted to focus on what I wanted to do, Art, and I did have some dark moments. But, I did get to do some exciting things, I studied in Australia for a semester. Then I moved back home with my parents, getting a day jobs, however working continuously on art, and I’ve never stopped. If I ever feel stuck, I just doodle. As an artist nowadays, you have all these things pressing down on you, you have to be a create entrepreneur but you want to create from your heart, and other struggles. In 1992, I could feel really isolated. In 2017, the internet and social media helps you to connect with other artists and receive valuable feedback too. In 1994, I began a Masters Degree in Art Therapy at Florida State University, I loved the practise of psychology, symbols and art, making my work become even more meaningful. I married and moved to North West Florida, showed some work, practised some commercial flip-flop art briefly, then quickly learned to do what you actually want to do!
And then you moved to Middlesbrough! How has this affected your work?
The first thing that changed was my colour scheme, I toned it right down. Instead of being psychedelic colours it became greys, brick colours and earth tones. The themes I paint have changed. For the first few years I took photos of the area, turned them into paintings and this vintage robot character emerged, from lowbrow art origins, representing a symbolic ironopolis outsider. Landscapes and urbanscapes completely changed too. I now have a Masters in Future Design from Teesside University and, in the painting studio, I did my best work. I’ve had solo shows and currently work at the Cleveland College of Art and Design. Interestingly, I’m almost mythologizing Florida lately and incorporating it into landscapes.
Can you describe your muse?
It’s an invisible force that’s also other-worldly, and when I don’t have that, I’m pretty miserable. When you get those ideas, you’ve got to listen to them and give them a go. As a teenager, I was really into surrealism. There was a Dali museum in Florida, Frida Khalo inspired me, punk rock art, lowbrow art, magazines and album covers. I love German Expressionism and outsider art from people who are self-taught, because it is so powerful! Teesside Poet’s inspire me greatly too.
If there were no boundaries whatsoever, what would you do now?
I would buy and renovate a building in Middlesbrough. It would be a massive personal studio, workshop and display space, with a performance space and, hey, I might even throw in a coffee shop and book shop! I would love to exhibit my art overseas, particularly in Berlin.
www.marylouspringstead.com visit for further information about the artist and her work
This edition of Foxy takes as its portrait Rowena Sommerville, the CEO of Tees Valley Arts. Rowena is a published writer, an illustrator, and a singer; she has worked for TVA for 18 years and been CEO for the past decade. However, she is also on the cusp of leaving TVA to take up other creative opportunities. Foxy wanted to grab her at this key moment in her life.
Where are you from?
I was born in Bristol, and grew up in Wiltshire, at the end of a long country lane. Later, my family moved into the village of Box, 5 miles from Bath. So my beginnings were in a very beautiful area of England, close to a beautiful city.
What did you study?
I was always arty, and did my arts foundation course in a stately home: Corsham Court, an English Country House owned by the Methuen family with a garden designed by Capability Brown. So yet more beauty! There were white cows, white cats and white peacocks. But the downside was I had to live at home, and since this was the end of the 60s, it meant opportunities for sex and drugs and rock and roll were limited. My next move was to go to Brighton, where I did a degree in graphics and illustration (and sex and drugs…).
I had not the slightest idea how to earn a living. After my degree, I got a job for a year, in an unrelated area, with the Richmond Fellowship, a community mental health organisation with a broadly psychotherapeutic, Laingian ethos. This was in a big house south of London with15 residents and 5 very young staff. It was an intense and very challenging year, dealing with serious issues, unhappy people, lots of group meetings with your own behaviour reflected back to you.
What did you do next?
I had a variety of jobs, in each of which I was offered free training: as a teacher, librarian, social worker. To each of these offers I replied – no! I’m an artist! I was also making jumpers to sell, but I didn’t really know what I was about. I joined Camden Social Services in the mid 70s (my desk had a phone, a typewriter, a filing tray and an ash tray). One of my clients was Alan Bennett and the Lady in the Van. This was 1976. He wanted help to take her to the baths, but it was turned down, on the grounds that it wasn’t possible to establish her actual age. He wrote me the most brilliant letter, which I wish I had a copy of. I was number 2 of a long line of social workers on this case.
So you didn’t become a social worker?
No. I got married and had my two sons whilst doing bits of creative work and youth work. We moved to Leeds in 1983 to get out of London and buy a house. That was great. But we visited Robin Hood’s Bay and fell in love with it: we moved there in 1988. My kids grew up there.
Then, through acquiring children’s books to read to my sons, I decided I could have a go myself. I wrote some rhyming stories for children with illustrations, and got an agent. I published my first book, If I were a crocodile (Century Hutchinson/ Random House) It was also used on children’s TV. I was also freelance illustrating for EJ Arnold, the publisher of schools’ text books and for Yorkshire TV children’s programmes. At the same time, I worked in a local pub to make ends meet.
And I began singing - although I had always thought I could. On a school trip me and another mum and a teacher started singing in the back of the coach, and thought we could do something with this. We formed Henwen, an all female acappella group, and started getting gigs locally. Then we spread our wings further, even doing a national tour in 2007 with Ian MacMillan performing a piece co-written with him. The group is still going, but it’s been a bit quiet recently. After I leave this post I’ll get things going again.
Are you always an organiser in the activities you do?
Yes in some ways. Working in TVA has given me a lot of skills: I know what needs to be done, and I’ve practised this many times. Lots of artists have great ideas, but don’t know how to think through the logistical aspects – so they don’t plan out their funding bids properly. Now there isn’t so much money, there’s more pressure on projects to be deliverable. You won’t get funded just for good ideas.
How did you get to be CEO of Tees Valley Arts?
Through the books and my work for TV, I got invited to go into schools to talk about my work. I found I enjoyed this, and was good at it. I started to do workshops in schools and I also taught adult art classes. Then I got a job working for what was then Cleveland Arts, on a project called Articulate, funded through the Health Action Zone, for arts and disability. This was in 1999. I worked for three years on this, and also did projects funded through Creative Partnerships. I realised you could make things happen, and this was when I got the first funding for work with for asylum seekers and refugees.
I became Social Inclusion Manager in 2006. I was also doing an MA in Creative Writing with Manchester Metropolitan University. It was an online MA, taught by Michael Schmidt, which was one of the reasons why I chose to do it. This was quite early days in on-line studying, and there were some issues, but it fitted into my life. I loved Michael Schmidt – he was very sharp. In my final year my tutor was Michael Symmons Roberts, which was a bonus. I got a distinction.
In 2008, I became Acting CEO, which was then ratified in 2009 - just as budgets were shrinking everywhere. If I’d known there was such a thing as arts management way back – I think by now I’d be running the Old Vic!
How do you manage the balance of your life?
Over the last 5 to 10 years since being Chief Executive Officer, I’ve found that the demands of the job take up all my energy. I don’t resent it but it’s a fact. Now I’m coming up to leaving, while there’s still some spirit and energy left, I’m both excited and frightened.
What frightens you?
What if you look into yourself and there’s nothing there? What if what you do is second rate? What if you can’t get it out anywhere? I’m also aware that I’ll miss stimulus, the colleagues, the bizarre events in the wider arts world. I don’t want to disappear in Robin Hood’s Bay! I want networks and people to correspond with – that’s very important to me.
Aging is also an issue: will I be able to drive my car to Sainsbury’s?
Do you think you have achieved everything?
I feel a raging sense of under achievement! I want to go back and be a pop singer!
I would like to have a really fulfilling mixed creative practice where I am engaging with interesting people and my work is showcased in places I respect. And I would like people I respect to respect my work!
Looking back, I think there have been three major events in my life which changed my view of myself: the birth of my first child, the acceptance of my first book and the death of my mother.
Has being a woman helped or hindered?
I can’t imagine being a man. Yes, men get breaks, but there’s so much joy in being a woman, however difficult and challenging it can be. Women have brought me strength. In the arts wold, there are a lot of senior powerful women, though you still see lots of men at the head of things.
What’s your favourite outfit?
The outfit I’m thinking of is one I made myself out of some chintz curtains from a charity shop. It was pale pink with enormous cabbage roses: deep pink, red and yellow. I made it sleeveless, with a full skirt dropping to low mid calf and I felt like a queen in it. It was lovely to wear, and people always commented on it. It was like wearing a ballgown. So bloody lovely! It fell apart in the end: the red roses went first.
But I’ve had a lot of good outfits. Being tall means complete strangers have often complimented me on my look. I make a point of doing the same to other people as I think it’s a lovely thing to do.
I’ve always enjoyed clothes. My mum used to make all my dresses. I had a lot of gingham, small flower print frocks, very pretty, with smocking. I was aware I had nice clothes. My mum taught me to sew and knit, for which I’m very grateful. When puberty started I rebelled against the home made dresses. It was the very dawn of the 60s, and I decided that I preferred C and A. Probably broke my mother’s heart! The shift dress kind of look.
My style icon is Jimi Hendrix. I have a photo of him pinned by my desk. For me, he is the epitome of an amazing look as well as an amazing being. He summed it up for me, that sense that there was more to life.
What music do you listen to?
African music of various kinds. I still absolutely love Leonard Cohen. But also black music of all kinds: Marvin Gaye, Otis, Aretha, Stevie Wonder, Brenda Fassie.
I love the McGarrigle sisters. I saw them live in Whitby a while back. I also listen to a bit of classical: Aarvo Paart, John Taverner. I’ve got broad musical taste really. I love the star quality of some of the women singers of the past: Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey. They were amazing.
What do you read?
I love crime fiction: Ian Rankin, Deon Meyer, plus the older writers like Chandler. I don’t like gruesome stuff :I find it a bit boring. I like a well-plotted novel. I love Hilary Mantel – especially Beyond Black. I’m a huge fan of Tony Hoagland the poet who has a collection called ‘What Narcissism Means to Me’. And I love Larkin too. I think Kate Tempest is a knock out – especially with the music. I like the mix of spoken and sung words – I’d like to do more of that. I like to perform. In fact, I’m better at performing than being in an audience.
Interview by Julie Hogg
Annie O’Donnell is a Sculptor. I’m a poet who became fascinated with her work during a recent Localism exhibition at MIMA, so much so that I was compelled to write poetry in response. Annie’s gestural sculptural practice researches place and identity and draws spatially on her previous experiences as a dancer. A bright morning in late July and here we are again at the gallery, at home in our roots.
Your Northern identity is inherent in your work. Tell me about your childhood.
I should perhaps first of all say that my parents chose for me to be born in Middlesbrough for sporting reasons. My father, who was born in Dublin, had been a really great sportsman but couldn’t play for Yorkshire because he wasn’t born there. My whole birth was very specific in order for me to do something in the future, something that would be useful for me. Not that I ever played for them! I was brought up in Billingham, on a large council estate, built in the 1950’s. On the edge of this physically convoluted estate, where we lived, the town fell away into fields and railway lines and the village of Cowpen. This locality mirrored that of my parents’ childhoods. My Dad worked for chemical giant ICI and British Steel and my Mum was a housewife, having worked for ICI during the war in a ‘man’s’ job, later resenting conforming to office work.
How did you discover your artistic spark?
Art started almost pre-memory. I was diagnosed by a doctor as having an artistic ‘bent,’ I was very physically active and loved to paint. This man was a Czechoslovakian Jew who fled during the war; he served in the Free Airforce and RAF before being displaced to Billingham. Dr Ables had a Feldenkrais background, matching people physically to things he thought they would be good at, and dance was, wonderfully, chosen for me. I had a long dance career as a teacher and choreographer on Teesside, both in ballet and contemporary dance. My son was born in my late 30’s which naturally coincided with me going back to basics and commencing training in Fine Art.
I realised during the first week of my BA at Cleveland College of Art that my work would be three dimensional. I was given a space, about the size of a phone box, and within that space I created a structure around myself using a waterproof sheet. I’d created a dancer’s space, a kinesphere, unleashing the fact that my previous research for choreography had been an expression of myself as an artist through dancing. This was abstract not figurative. I identified that, outside of the British obsession with figurative, there were pockets of abstraction, including the narrative of my hometown of Billingham and the birth of post-war modernism.
Is colour important to you?
During my masters, I explored how colour inhabited objects or was separate to them, through the work of Matisse and Ellsworth Kelly. At this time, I also became interested even more deeply in place and identity, colour in the highly industrialised environments of chemical plants, theatrical colour effects of performance and how art is not just visual but also consists of bodily experiences, smells, sounds and feelings. High colour interests me and its association against western sensibility, femininity and childishness.
How does colour reflect your own, personal, style?
My childhood next door neighbour was a ballroom dancer and I can remember miles and miles of net being ironed and spilling out of her kitchen, pinks, blues, bright orange and fluorescents. I have an awareness of which colour I’m wearing and a massive collection of souvenir headscarves which are a a nod to place, time and colour. I’ve worn black as an artist to show I’m in neutral mode, and thinking in a slightly different way, and customised clothing as a dancer. More and more, as I get older, I just put things on. There was a point in my early fine art training, when a male tutor said to me at an exhibition that I was turning into my work!
Who inspires you?
Two female artists had an early impact on me. Phyllida Barlow had a huge instillation at Baltic in Gateshead of enormous drifts of wood bound together with tape and then a quite small piece, applying colour with paint. I found that the difference in scale almost offended me and I wanted to ask her why she was doing that. During a response to this work I was introduced to Jessica Stockholder’s work which was a revelation. She has fantastic sense of colour, with kinship in her use of readymade, for example fur with paint poured over it. She draws on narratives of her childhood too. Her title’s and the naming of things are very important to her, as they are with me.
How did you become interested in identity?
I’d formulated an idea of a PhD that would include the idea of knowing your place, academically, intellectuall and on a kenned, intimate level, including belonging, displacement and shadows of my parents’ experience to this area as incomers. I think I would struggle to make work in a place with a history of hundreds of years. The ‘Tees Valley Giants’ project was beginning, with the ‘Temenos’ sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and there were dialogues in newspapers, who did Teessiders think they were? I worked with three PhD supervisors at Newcastle University, Venda Pollock, an Art Historian, Katrin Huber, an artist and John Tomaney an urban geographer.
How do you select your materials?
Again, very early on, I realised that I had specific preferences for certain materials. I was interested in traditional materials for sculpture but not really interested in making work with them. I use found materials, metal, wood and man-made materials. Plastic in particular is very expressive for me and poignant for my hometown of Billingham which was the centre for its research, development and production. My parents worked in the Plastics Division of ICI so the house was full of samples when I was growing up. A global material that, for me, has hyper local connotations. I lived on the edge of plastic and this became a trope for the idea that my area is seen as a very toxic place because of its industrial history.
Tell me about your exhibitions
I’m interested in exhibitions as a research tool, working in a site sensitive way where each piece relates to each other. Mostly, my work is adaptive. I’m interested in the way sculpture is moved to a new place with experiences of previous place prevalent in it. My thesis exhibition centred around the narrative of Middlesbrough, almost portraits of people who were seen to have huge significance to this place, their symbols, temporary or permanent, expressed in the monumental with classical drapery. Found readymade materials fascinate me, those made through industrial techniques that I don’t have access to.
There is so much movement in your sculpture. How do you create it?
Although I have moved away from performance, everything I make has a sort of performative element to it, a sense of movement or rhythm. As a dancer, I made lines visible lines of limbs as they moved through space, like sparklers. There was an awareness to of those parts of my body that I could see and those I couldn’t, but where I could feel the line. Dancers also make a line through a mirror reflection. For me, my initial thought and the earliest manipulation of energy and materials become a finished piece.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working with two artists based in Newcastle, Sarah Tulloch and Katy Cole. They work more often in two dimensions or film and we have explored a fluid collage practise, bringing disparate elements from life together and juxtaposing them. Cutting into colour, like Matisse, for me is very closely related to sculpture. We’ll be researching in Frankfurt and Manheim this Summer at the Hannah Hoch Exhibition. I’ve also been working for the first time with dancers, in a sculptural role. My exhibitions all have space where movement could happen, in or around sculpture. Viewers move in a way that a dancer would – in the theatrical empty space. I love the collaboration of it all.
Annie O’Donnell is represented by Platform A Gallery
Our portrait this edition is not a person, but a place - Bike Stop, Darlington.
A social enterprise initiative of First Stop, a local homeless charity, the Bike Stop project offers preloved and refurbished bikes for sale, a full cycle repair and servicing facility along with training and bike workshops to suit everyone. All housed in a very stylish environment, run by a dedicated staff team and skilled volunteers, so if you are completely new to cycling or want to get going again this is the place to start.
Based in Skinnergate, Darlington this is a million miles away from neon lycra - think funky Amsterdam bikes, well-designed baskets and panniers, local cycling events, such as the Buttonhole Run, a Darlington version of the famous Tweed Run, coupled with supportive cyclists who know everything about bikes. Stylish bikes, knowledgable staff, the promise of the open road - Bike Stop - a portrait of summer possibilities.
Interview by Jo Colley
I first met Cath Walshaw when she and I were doing a project together with a group of women in redcar, combining my work as a poet with hers as a visual artist. I immediately thought - wow, she looks amazing. And then I was further impressed by her approach with the group, inspiring and down to earth at the same time, as you would expect from a woman cut from the Yorkshire landscape. I was really chuffed when she agreed to be our portrait in this edition of Foxy, and went to her studio in Gateshead to interview her.
Cath is a very talented freelance artist originally from Leeds, now living in Whitley Bay. She has worked in several media, but is a printmaker by training. She has supported herself through making and teaching in participatory arts in a career which spans several decades. Her interests include the new perspectives emerging through digital developments, which profoundly challenge our traditional sense of place and identity. She is also interested in memory and memorialising: one of her projects, Shipwreck, investigates costal heritage and memorial sites. In examining these shifts in how we understand our lives, her practice seeks to fuse together the past, the present and the future. Her work investigates the relationships between people, identity, community and place, and how these elements come together in the memory, or are fetishised in objects. She is a great collector.
"I've never made a lot of money, but I've always been able to keep my head above water. It's been tough sometimes - even more so now, in these lean times. but I don't regret my career choice: money isn't everything and I've thoroughly enjoyed the places art has taken me."
Sometimes the places have been distinctly odd.
"I can remember standing waist deep in waste at a recycling plant searching for plastic bottles."
I wondered if it was a lonely life.
"It can be. If you're just in the studio. But I also get involved in participatory projects and collaborating with other artists. There's a real joy in that."
There seems to be more collaboration across the arts now - and maybe less emphasis on the genius of the individual artist. Writers, film makers, musicians, visual artists, theatre directors, installation artists, pushing the boundaries and limitations of their own chosen medium against another's practice.
"Collaboration can open things out. Being a printmaker - it's so painstaking, working with the layers, the neatness to keep things controlled. I am a bit of a control freak and i thought collaboration wasn't for me, but it's helped me loosen up a bit."
Cath puts a high value on the arts. "Life isn't worth living without these explorations: they enable us to have a framework to investigate our identity, family, heritage, to realise what we share - and explore our differences."
What do you most enjoy about your life?
My relationships, friendships, living by the sea, being creative, making things, my family - having a body! I love my yoga. Getting older - things get better. Life gets better before the body really creaks out - you feel confident and at ease with yourself. Its another creative space.
What gets on your nerves?
I am lucky enough to straddle the pre and post digital world. Both are good, but the loss of civic identity now worries me. People used to talk on park benches, bus stops, trains. Very few people do now. We are being robbed! Traffic makes me cross too - being stuck in a jam, even though I am actually contributing to it. Supermarkets! They have taken over the way we shop and farm, and this is not necessarily a good thing.
Who has inspired you?
Certain artists: Cornelia Parker, Susan Hillier - she pulls together ephemera and tat she has collected and makes connections between one generation and the next, which leads you to think other interesting thoughts. I wish I had started collecting things earlier! Sally Wainwright - a northern woman champion. She is coming into her own at the moment. The comments she is making about northern life in a small town is excellent, told through strong women characters, who are complicated and complex. not the usual heroine.
What music do you listen to?
I love 6 music, for the range. Also, my partner is a musician so he brings in obscure and interesting stuff. I love black American soul, northern soul and reggae music. I am also getting more interested in classical - Philip Glass, Brian Eno - on the edge, a weird out there cusp of outer zen listening. peaceful and relaxing. I can work and think my thoughts. It puts you in a place of deeper thoughts, and helps to sustain that.
What's your favourite outfit?
It comes and goes, but I love my Flora Robinson outfit: a long red woollen kilt with a zip up leather jerkin (black). A bit Vivienne Westwood: she was at the heart of punk. that's one of my favourite winter looks.
I like clothes that aren't in fashion and I like quality clothes. My mum made clothes so I know how they are put together. I always inspect seams! I'm a Yorkshire lass with an eye for quality. I love tweeds, and I've recently met the weavers on Harris and bought tweed there to be made into garments for me.
I also have vintage clothes, which I love wearing, for the attention to details and clever seaming and stitching.
Then there are my Emma Peel clothes - though I don't like to wear them much now. I don't want to wear skirts so short now. I am more restrained. I know what suits me.
Bury or burn?
Bury. Then worms will come and eat up thee .. I was brought up a Catholic, so the notion of the flames licking at your body is hell and damnation to me! I like the idea of going back into the land, with maybe a tree planted above me.
More about Cath and her work ..