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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 5 – Carole Stephens

Carole Stephens writes:

I’ve been privileged to be part of the Whiteknights Studio Trail since 2004, in a variety of venues: in Progress Theatre, in a beautiful Arts and Crafts house in Northcourt Avenue, in Redlands School, in MERL, and in Christ Church, Christchurch Rd.

For my contribution to The Art and History of Whiteknights I chose to make a mixed media picture based around the Michael Cardew teapot which I discovered in the Museum of English Rural Life, where I was due to exhibit this year.

My Whiteknights Studio Trail displays were initially vivid compositions based on natural forms, or more subtle Welsh landscapes. The compositions were made using coloured inks, the landscapes more often a mix of watercolour and water based crayons, with details added in pen and ink.

In 2004, my first year on the trail, my WST leaflet description ran: ‘The effects of strong sunlight on a summer garden or dramatic weather over the Welsh mountains are seen here beside more peaceful pastoral scenes or still-life as I try to show the ordinary in an extraordinary way’. In 2005 I was writing a similar description of my work but adding ‘in a range of media…’ Thus, over the years this focus has changed and I’m now just as likely to be showing prints, collages or mixed media work.

Prints, in my case, could often be a simple line drawing. This will have been made on the back of a piece of paper placed on a surface onto which oil paint or printing ink has been applied with a roller to make an even surface. My drawing is then made with a biro or sharp drawing pencil; when pulled off the inked surface the print is revealed. Usually these prints are portraits, which lend themselves particularly well to this way of working.

How do I do mixed media? It’s always an experiment, layering painted or printed backgrounds, adding details printed from any kind of textured surfaces, be it wood, lace, plants, leaves. Then I use collage, which could be scraps of patterned papers to clothe a figure, vividly coloured cut shapes for sails on a choppy sea, even the odd word.

Out of Africa ‘Kampala series’

For example, in a collage of a vase of flowers, in the deep reds, ochres, yellows and pink, echoing the depth and colours of the Kampala scene, the name ‘Entebbe’, Kampala’s nearest airport. Then I may perhaps add more linear detail to complete the picture.

I’ve often been inspired by particular places or events or been asked to provide images or illustrations on a particular theme.

Kampala: In 2013 I went with my husband and the charity ‘Brass for Africa’ on a working trip to Kampala, Uganda, where sights, sounds, colours, and local costumes made a great impression. Back home in Reading during dreary January days, I could not see a way to reproduce these extraordinary and vivid images on paper.

But by chance one day an image by Picasso inspired me, and from it I developed a collage of a majestic Kampala figure. This image was replicated, several times, as a full-length portrait. These figures were then clothed/decorated/ enhanced with coloured paper scraps.

Regatta

Boats and Boating: Teenage holidays sailing across the English Channel to Brittany and plus living so close to the River Thames has inspired many monoprints and collage pictures. Colourful sailing boats take part in regattas off the French coast or rowers training on the Thames at Henley. These images of water did develop a slightly more sinister feel, when skies became darker, and the waters too, or as in a larger collage for the exhibition ‘Hooray Henley’ figures scurry along the towpath; scullers practise beneath a heavy sky and hanging trees.

‘Reading and its Rivers’ was an exhibition curated by Jenny Halstead at Blakes Lock Museum, Kennetside. For this I researched old maps of Reading, in Reading Library, and was much inspired John Speed’s map of 1611. Elements of this 1611 map was used as a basis for my compositions. To these I added cut or torn cyanotypes: simple prints made by exposing plants or torn pieces of lace or cloth to the sun, on photosensitive paper, to produce very beautiful, mysterious, subtle images. I used these cyanotypes to evoke the surface of the river, with plants and bits and pieces drifting along on, or below the surface. It was interesting to see that the flow of Reading’s waterways has not radically altered, and the plan of the town still accommodates these.

Isabella Bird ‘Top Girls’

Further focus for my mixed media work has come from Progress Theatre, and also from writers or editors asking for illustrations on particular themes. Progress Theatre put on Caryll Churchill’s ‘Top Girls’ just before the WST 2019 and as my WST venue was to be Progress Theatre, I was able to display these for the duration of the play, and during the WST weekend.

Patient Grizelda ‘Top Girls’

If you’ve seen the play, you will know that it includes female characters from differing eras. I imagined suitable portraits for each of the female characters.

‘Isabella Bird’ from Edinburgh was an intrepid traveller in the nineteenth century. I depicted her in a Far Eastern setting, her portrait surrounded with a collage of hieroglyphics, monkeys and tourists. These are all collaged scraps of information; only Isabella’s portrait is made using monoprint technique.

‘Patient Grizelda’, a character from the Middle Ages, an obedient wife whose story is told in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, is depicted in a simple portrait. Framed by contemporary medieval floral designs, horsemen wait patiently below her in the picture, ready to escort Grizelda onwards.

Trial portraits for ‘Famous Women of Reading‘

The ‘Famous Women of Reading,’ proved harder in the sense that I had to make portraits of real people. I chose to experiment using backgrounds ready covered in subtle print from various textured surfaces.

I both painted and printed the portraits, but here the mixed media, although beautiful, proved too subtle for successful reproduction in a book, so in this case I resorted to my original way of working; pen and ink.

‘He lay as one who lies and dreams…’ The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The exhibition ‘In Reading Gaol by Reading Town’ provided me with another excuse to make some dark, complicated compositions in response to lines from Oscar Wilde’s famous tale. The main character, the condemned man, is due to be hanged, yet in the tale ‘he lay as one who lies and dreams in a pleasant meadowland’.

It was hard to convey this mix of the harsh reality of his life as a condemned man, with his dreamed state. I tried by layering collage, inks and paint to achieve this dreamy, but nightmarish feel.

Despite appreciating the challenge of this doom-laden project, I continue to make drawings from the natural world. So those of you who know me for my lighter ‘ summer garden’ compositions in inks and paint, will be happy to know that these are still being made, and are available.

Please see my website or contact me directly.

Carole Stephens

www.artbycarolestephens.com

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In a normal year, we always look forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 4 – Chris Mercier

In this short film, Chris Mercier talks about the 1940s TOB1 prefab buildings on the University of Reading Whiteknights campus which have been the home of the fine art department since 1989. Chris’s illustration of Studio 4, with its distinctive saw-tooth roof, features in the book The Art and History of Whiteknights.

Chris shows us his print studio, talks us through how he made the silk screen print of Studio 4, and introduces some of the work produced during isolation and lockdown, including a series of disembodied dance drawings.

Chris Mercier, artist and printmaker lives and practises in Reading (UK).   He runs the Printmaker art editioning studio. He has also collaborated with many artists in the role of master printer. He is a member of the OpenHand OpenStudio, Arjeea21 and the Printmakers Council.

He studied Fine Art at The University of Reading and fine art printmaking at the Royal College of Art, London.

You can find out more about Chris Mercier’s work at www.chrismercier.co.uk

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In a normal year, towards the end of May we would be looking forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 3 – Martin Andrews on the Old Dairy, and a tour of his studio

Martin Andrews writes:
“I first got to know Whiteknights in the early seventies as a student and I am still here in Reading fifty years later after a career as a museum designer and then a lecturer in graphic design at the University. Art has always been at the centre of my life and my involvement in the Whiteknights Trail and the Two Rivers Press, both central to the cultural life of the town, has been a source of great joy.”

Martin recently recorded a short video in which he talks about the Whiteknights campus, the Old Dairy on Upper Redlands Road which inspired his painting in the book, and takes us on a personal tour of his studio in Caversham. Take a look!

 

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In a normal year, towards the end of May we would be looking forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 2 – Jenny Halstead writes about the Whiteknights Studio Trail and Christchurch Green

It was the autumn of 2019 when the idea of a book to celebrate the Whiteknights Studio Trail’s 20th anniversary in 2020 was conceived. Two Rivers Press, who had been an exhibiting member of the WST since the very beginning, were keen to be on board and a joint publication with shared costs was born.  The book would feature artists’ work in a response to the area of Whiteknights, as well as chapters on its history. As TRP had many titles lined up for publication in 2020, this new ‘babe’ if it was to be out by June, had to be created as soon as possible.

I contacted artists who had been in the Trail from the beginning and others who worked in different mediums or lived in the area, asking if they would like to participate and produce a piece of work inspired by the Whiteknights campus or the area round about, with a deadline of just over 5 weeks!  I had an enthusiastic response from 28 artists. The two chapters on the history of the area, one on the campus of Whiteknights Park estate by Ian Burn and John Grainger, the other on the surrounding area by Evelyn Williams and Dennis Wood , were an excellent complement, and also a foreword by Radio 3’s Fiona Talkington on living in the area. Everyone, to my great joy, met the deadline!

Having been one of the WST founder members and now its Co-ordinator, I felt particularly saddened by the need in March to cancel the 20th WST event this year, due to Coronavirus.  I was heartened by the fact that the book would be published in June as planned and that WST would be back next year for a 21st birthday celebration on 12 &13 June 2021.

Lock-down – Christchurch Green

My home and studio are on Christchurch Road and in these weeks of lock-down I have seen a massive change in the usually busy, noisy road. Now a strange eeriness – no students, a few people distancing in a queue waiting to enter the chemist, many shops closed. The silence broken only by the sound of birdsong and (alas) ambulances.

I pay a personal homage to the No 21 bus travelling valiantly past my house every 20 minutes or so, even in the evening, carrying perhaps just a single passenger. A warrior. My painting, featured in the book, shows the shops opposite Christchurch Green in autumn when I painted it, but actually includes the No 21 bus!

Last week the Green was transformed from a wild meadow by RBC Streetcare Team. When I spoke with the gardener, he was delighted to know that we all cared for this tiny green and that we had in place a watering rota for the new plantings. He strimmed the long grass, trimmed the shrubs, returning the next day to lovingly mow and mulch the plants.

A new neighbourhood group – The Friends of Christchurch Green – is about to be launched, delayed only by this current situation.

The Green last year had live music from a local band for several hours during our Whiteknights Studio Trail offering a festival feel to the weekend as visitors walked around and  just last week, BBC Radio 3 presenter Fiona Talkington broadcast one of her shows, a 3-hour long  music programme, live from  her home just a few metres away.

On one Thursday evening clap for the NHS a group of professional musicians who share a house across the Green brought a four piece band out and the air was filled with music and memories of the Beatles song ‘Come Together ‘.

~ Jenny Halstead

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In a normal year, towards the end of May we would be looking forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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The Art and History of Whiteknights: 1 – A visit to the studio of local artist Sally Castle

In a normal year, towards the end of May we would be looking forward to the annual Whiteknights Studio Trail, where our local artists and craftspeople open their houses. This is the trail’s 20th year, and in a joint venture with the Whiteknights Studio Trail, Two Rivers Press is delighted to publish a beautiful celebratory book, The Art and History of Whiteknights, which features 28 artworks all inspired by the Whiteknights area of Reading. The featured artists have all exhibited on the trail over the years, and in the unfortunate absence of the trail itself in 2020 (it will be back in 2021!) we hope that this book will remind you of the wealth of creative talent in our locality, as well as inspiring you to reflect more deeply on the history and roots of this special part of town.

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In the first of a series of posts to celebrate the publication of the book, we invite you to visit the Studio of Sally Castle, where she shows us around and talks about the creation of the work she produced for the book, which is inspired by her memories of her grandfather and of the house on Hatherley Road where she was born.

Sally enjoys experimental self-directed work as well as a variety of commissions using lettering and illustration. You can see a selection of her work on her website: http://www.sallycastle.co.uk/