Here, Stephen discusses our inspiration for our most recent painting of Saint Rosalia, who is invoked by the people of Palermo in times of plague, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We particularly wanted to work on a piece that matched the dates of the second lockdown in England exactly. The restrictions imposed have focused us all, as a nation on what is on our doorstep and we decided to settle on the market in our town of Bury St Edmunds as a very pertinent subject for collaboration. Glimpsing our market Square just prior to these latest restrictions, we imagined the layers of history unfolding before us; as if unlocked again as we became locked.
We have explored layered urban environments in London before but in Lockdown the aperture of vision came closer to home and Bury St Edmunds our local market town has become our focus. Different era’s and drama’s, building frontages and products on sale shift in and out of focus on the same plot of land and become a story in themselves that we wanted to explore with the silence of the Pandemic as context but very much continuity being the story.
We accessed archived images of Cornhill and the Buttermarket from the late Victorian period to present day and together with our sketches, we began to overlay the composition with the characters who have walked our streets and the business facades that have framed one of the centre points of our town. Moyses Hall, the astounding building in the far left hand corner of the square has been the corner stone for 900 years. It has stood for centuries, bearing witness to plague, upheaval and change, as well as trade, celebration and commemoration. We have had a market in Bury since James I granted permission for it to be held twice a week in the 1600s and it is a back bone to Bury St Edmunds.
Once the layering began, we soon realised the importance of leaving some areas clear, both to evoke a sense of social distancing that we are abiding by these days, but also to punctuate the painting with pauses which is so essential with an intricate painting. We have aimed to suggest strong rhythms throughout these spaces; connecting the past and present, crowding and isolation and our individual approach to the collaborative process.
As with most of our work, we enjoy twists and surprises and here the buildings and market stalls began to suggest larger figures…. even St Edmund makes an appearance!
A subject we return to is the urban environment and its layers. Occasionally, substantive reference points persist over time, but even immense structures eventually fall into disrepair and decay and inevitably memory, at this point memory becomes as much of a reference point as anything that persists. We’ve explored this concept by the Thames before, through briefly glimpsed wisps of people floating between old and new layers in ‘Bridge’ 2017. We returned to layered history once again in ‘Limehouse, One Dock Two Views’ 2019.
Now that a new Lockdown influences our daily movements our aperture of view has shifted subtly to our local town, Bury St Edmunds and it’s market. In existence for at least 1000 years, the essential medieval grid of the town and how it related to the Abbey has persisted. The huge Abbey is long gone, though amorphous architectural ruins strewn across the public gardens remain. The Buttermarket and it’s two weekly markets has changed over the years, but remains lively, though Lockdown has changed the movement of people. The reference points remain, the ancient grid now overlayed with a strict 2 metre rule to ensure social distancing. The Moyses Hall stands sentry over 900 years of layers and textures that have changed, adapted and renewed with the town’s remarkable history. This opens the market to a collaborative piece that gives us an opportunity to spotlight both the temporary nature of people in their environments and the persistence of people and activity among their reference points.
This will be a new subject for Lorna who has lived and grown very accustomed to the town over the last 5 years and Stephen’s paintings from 1997 already represent a layer glimpsed in the past that he’s keen to revisit.
We look forward to updating you with progress.
It’s been a year of butterflies, noticed more perhaps as our own colours have ebbed a little amidst the duress of the virus. Whole life cycles of Red Admirals, Commas, Cabbage Whites, Peacocks, Speckled Woods, Orange Tips, Gatekeepers, Common Blues, Meadow Browns and Ringlets have been mapped out in front of us from start to end through each change. An unstoppable flood of colour and abundance on the wing, whilst pallid days of worry and Lockdown stopped us from being abundant.
These butterfly collaborations are on reflection, our claim for some hope back. The virus dampens hope and aspiration, can take taste and smell, but will never take the scent or sense of freedom and the butterflies of 2020 have fed and nourished this within us, all of this long year.
Here are some of these little garden visitors to our home in Suffolk:
This period of lockdown amidst Pandemic has been such a challenging, confusing and emotional journey for so many of us who find ourselves out of all recognisable comfort zones. Just before lockdown, but very aware of the immensity of what was coming, we suffered a very human “belly punch” moment of bad news about a beloved pet’s chances of surviving a grim diagnosis. We found a need to be quiet amidst beauty and grandeur that was accessible nevertheless to human interaction and visited St Mary’s church in Bury St Edmunds. The Angels have supported the hammer beam roof for 600 years without a grimace or slipped disc and their permanence and presence as a backdrop to so many lives and moments held our attention when we needed it to. When Lockdown inevitably came and during the subsequent last weeks of our cat’s life it was the Angels we returned to; initially The King and Queen and in progress, as I write, Gabriel. As Artists it is not difficult to move along timelines of history and grasp some of the contexts and compositional challenges the Artisans, craftspeople and designers of the day would have debated whilst visualising the impact and success of their work. We find ourselves having the same conversation 600 years later. Over these weeks we have worked on our Angels during a time that is not so easy and we find ourselves thanking them for being there yesterday, today and tomorrow whilst carrying on the conversation.
We’ve been invited, as Ambassadors of St Cuthberts Mill Art papers to visit their factory near Wells in Somerset to see how their world renowned paper is produced and the high environmental standards that make their production sustainable. Water used in the process travels a matter of metres from the River Axe, before returning to the same river, cleaner than when extracted, leaving a negligible carbon footprint. We are delighted to have the opportunity to see this first hand later this year.
Our new studio nestles in the Lark Valley, the very matter of nature suffusing our perspectives, in turn makes us value the materials we use and the way they are produced. We have no doubt that new work will illustrate the holistic synchronicity between artist and material.
We look forward to sharing our visit to St Cuthberts Mill later this year and thank them for this wonderful opportunity.
Stephen and Lorna
We had a wonderful auction night at RIBA, London in November and were so delighted that the funds raised from the sale of our painting ‘One Dock, Two Views’ will be helping to rebuild communities around the world through Article25’s extraordinary work.
We were in very good company indeed with over 100 great works exhibited; most notably Anthony Gormley, Jeremy Deller and a Giacometti (that we were hung next to!)
We wish Article 25 all the very best with their amazing work and hope to participate again next year for the 10th Anniversary of 10×10.
We were delighted to donate work to a local Mental Health Charity FineNotFine earlier this year after becoming aware of the work they were doing with young people and their projects in negotiation with local schools. Local Artists were asked to work in situ around our local Town using Edvard Munch’s iconic image of The Scream as a reference point, whilst being open and accessible to the public and raising the charities local profile. We produced 2 pieces on the day which became part of an exhibition and silent Auction at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in October. We are delighted that both pieces sold and together with all the funds raised on the night, this excellent charity will be able to further realise the potential of their crucial work.
The body of work generated from this project remained on show in the cloisters at the cathedral for 2 weeks and we were glad to have been invited to do a residency during the exhibition. The architecture there is so extraordinary, we wanted to combine the essence of the structure with entwined hands imbuing a sense of security and support.
We are delighted to have been asked by Article 25 to contribute to their annual 10×10 drawing the City London event. The culmination will be a live Charity fundraising Auction of around 100 pieces of work, including ours at RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects in Portland Place London on the 18th of November.
Our work takes inspiration from a view of Limekiln Dock, E14 from both Rotherhithe and Limehouse overlapped collaboratively.
Yesterday we delivered our work (together with Lorna’s charcoal piece) to Article 25’s office in Canary Wharf in person; via car, train and taxi. It has to be said that we carried them both with a certain degree of pride and pleasure to have contributed to and participated in this great event. We so hope that our work will help to raise much needed funds for the amazing projects this charity undertake, supporting and improving communities around the world.