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Robert Gillmor

Robert Gillmor 1936–2022

We were saddened to hear of the death of Robert Gillmor last week, an artist, author and ornithologist that we will always feel immensely grateful for having worked with. It all started, for us, back in 2010 when Elaine Blake, Curator at Reading Museum, asked if we’d be interested in publishing a book to accompany an exhibition she was putting on of artwork commissioned from Robert by the Royal Mail for a series of stamps (Birds, Blocks and Stamps: Post & Go Birds of Britain). We jumped at the opportunity, though with some trepidation as we’d never published an art book before and it was a little daring to start with one by such a well known artist.

From the first meeting, which took place at Robert and Sue’s home in Cley, Norfolk, we knew the project was going to be a delight to work on as well as a success. Working with Robert turned out to be an invitation into his home – meeting Sue, enjoying home-made soup in their conservatory before clearing the crumbs away to pore over the most astounding linocut prints, marveling at the workmanship and receiving a demonstration of his trusted 1864 Albion Press in his studio. A subsequent meeting to discuss a second book (Cover Birdsthe story of Robert’s formative bird-watching and print-making years, illustrated with the covers he designed for the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s annual bird report from 1949 – when he was just 13 years old – onwards) took place at a cousin’s house as a half-way point and also included a delicious home-made lunch, by which time we felt like family friends. This privilege extended over more than a decade as we got to know Emily their daughter, also an accomplished artist, and were included on Christmas card lists (always one of Robert’s wonderful birds) and newsletter mailings.

I struggle to find a word to describe this generosity of spirit. ‘Hospitality’ is part of it, but it’s something more, encompassing a sense of easy naturalness in a relationship based on accepting people for who they are. It strikes me that this same ability to see and accept the essence of a person is what makes Robert’s work so appealing. In his designs, he endowed all his avian subjects with what ornithologists call ‘the jizz’ – the very character and personality of the bird. Something in Robert recognised and drew out the joy in an animal, and he did the same with people. It’s our turn now, to commemorate the joy in him.

Sally Mortimore, May 2022

Robert Gillmor obituary by Stephen Moss

 

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The Shady Side of Town Walnut

Since The Shady Side of Town was published five years ago, it’s a sad fact that several of the trees depicted in it have been lost. The Betchworth Oak was felled, as was the Caversham court Bhutan pine, and one of the Lime trees there. The Coley meadows willow pollard got burnt. The George St Lombardy poplars were hit by storms and worst of all the mighty Black Poplar in the Coley meadows snapped during Storm Ciara in February 2020. With Ash die back and building development around town hundreds of other trees have gone or may go soon. We need to pay attention and do what we can to keep Reading green!

The author of Shady Side, Adrian Lawson, and illustrator Geoff Sawers are both strong advocates for the protection and enhancement of our urban green spaces and royalties from the book have been given to the Ethical Reading Trees for Reading scheme, which works with local businesses to fund the planting of new trees in town. We were delighted to learn that this money has now been used to plant a Walnut tree at County Lock. It’s a magnificent specimen already and work to put a stone plaque marking it is underway.

If you are involved with a local business, please do consider getting your company to contribute to the Trees for Reading scheme. And if you are interested in volunteering, maybe you could help with the work of the Reading Tree Wardens which is another fantastic local group.

Links:

Ethical Reading Trees for Reading Scheme

Reading Tree Wardens

The Shady Side of Town

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Poetry and Art: Tim Dooley on his poem ‘6 Panels’, written in response to Anni Albers’ artwork ‘Six Prayers’

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

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‘6 Panels’ was written in response to Anni Albers’ artwork ‘Six Prayers’, a textile commissioned by the Jewish Museum of New York as a holocaust memorial. This abstract pictorial weaving formed a central part of a major Albers exhibition at Tate Modern in the winter of 2018. I found the work very moving and returned to look at it on more than one occasion, before attempting to start a piece of writing suggested by it. My response was an attempt to use language in a partly pictorial way, interweaving various threads across the six columns of the poem so that its sections, while they could be read downwards vertically, would also resonate horizontally through associations or echoes. The threads I drew on were: notebook observations from the windows of the gallery directly behind the area where the work was exhibited; notes on the pattern and variations of the panels themselves; quotations from Albers on her work; materials used in the work, or colours associated with them; tools and materials necessary for survival and shelter in the wild (an Albers theme); prayers from a range of major religions; figures in solid geometry; mythical representations of the weaver. I don’t consider the resulting text as presenting any argument or underlying idea. It’s an attempt instead to create a harmonic structure out of disparate materials and a minor tribute to a major work.

Tim Dooley, May 2022

Discoveries Book Cover‘6 Panels’ appears in Tim Dooley’s new collection Discoveries, published April 2022.

Tim Dooley is a tutor for The Poetry School and a mentor for the prison charity, Koestler Arts. He was reviews and features editor of Poetry London between 2008 and 2018, a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster from 2016 to 2021 and a judge for the John Pollard International Poetry Competition at Trinity College Dublin in 2019 and 2020. He was previously a schoolteacher for many years. His poetry collections include the Poetry Book Society Recommendations: Tenderness (Smith Doorstop, 2003), Keeping Time (Salt, 2008), and Weemoed (Eyewear, 2017).

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Poetry and Art: Jenny Halstead writes about her monotype inspired by Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

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An exhibition at Reading’s Turbine House in 2019 entitled In Reading Gaol by Reading Town, showcased artwork from Reading artists inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol. Jenny Halstead’s monotype is reproduced here, together with some creative context from the artist.

The Ballad was written after Oscar Wilde was released from a two-year sentence of hard labour, and was prompted principally by a hanging that had taken place in the Gaol during that time, which greatly affected both the poet and the other inmates.

My first thoughts turned to what the word ‘ballad’ typically suggested: a simple song, often with a memorable refrain conveying a moral, often expressed in combination with a mournful melody.

Monotype seemed the appropriate medium, given its immediacy as the product of a single pull without a printing press. My intention was to catch a precise moment on the stroke of eight, the victim alive one moment, dead the next, but the rope still swinging, with the horror of and end-of-life event set over against the haunting line: ‘nimble feet to dance upon the air’. The shapes on either side represent an inverted tent, ‘the little tent of blue that prisoners call the sky’. The whole conception is intended to look unrefined and brutal.

Jenny Halstead, February 2022

Jenny Halsteads artwork inspired by The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Jenny Halstead is a long-standing member of the Reading Guild of Artists and founder of the Whiteknights Studio Trail.

Also by Jenny Halstead: An Artist’s Year in the Harris Garden (2013), Silchester: Life on the Dig (2015, with Michael Fulford), The Art & History of Whiteknights (2020, Editor).

The Two Rivers Press edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol is illustrated with imagery by Peter Hay.

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Poetry and Art: Sue Leigh writes about the influence of Winifred Nicholson

Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.

Small and expansive: writing about the paintings of Winifred Nicholson

The life and work of Winifred Nicholson, the British twentieth-century artist, has always been significant to me. Inspired particularly by colour, light, flowers, landscapes and seascapes, her pictures have a freshness and immediacy (she painted quickly), a lyrical intensity. Her work is joyous. The paintings – often of pots or jugs of flowers on windowsills with a view of mountains, snow or sea beyond – bring together near and far, the small and expansive. It is as if by looking with attention at those flowers we might begin to understand what she calls ‘the secret of the cosmos’.

There is often a visionary quality to her work as in ‘Flower Table’ (1928–9) which she painted at Bankshead, the Cumberland farmhouse where she lived for most of her life. The pots of flowers in this painting sit on a heavy work table which itself sits on a rag rug (Winifred Nicholson designed rag rugs and was also interested in other crafts). I love the radiance of this painting, its silvery light. It is both domestic and homely but also otherworldly.

Why write about a painting? I am always questioning how we might respond creatively to the world and experience. Winifred Nicholson uses colour and form to express her vision. I try to articulate my own, not with paint but with language. Writing about painting helps me think again about the act of making, to consider the possibilities and limitations of different mediums. I live in language but sometimes I would like to be a painter just to see what happens, beyond the words.

Sue Leigh, March 2022

 

‘Flower Table’, Winifred Nicholson (1928–9)

 

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Flower table poem by Sue Leigh from Her Orchards

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Sue Leigh read English at London University and completed her doctorate at the University of Aberystwyth. She worked for Faber & Faber for a number of years before leaving London and settling in rural Oxfordshire. She now works as a freelance writer and poet, and as a part-time tutor at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. The poem ‘Flower Table’ appears in her latest collection Her Orchards, published in 2021.