Time to be arty again with the 64 Millions Artists January Challenge. None of this cutting out certain foods, I’m doing that anyway, or staying dry, are you kidding? This is my birthday month and it’s a BIG birthday at that. No this is a very arty challenge indeed.
It’s all very simple, every day I get a message through the magic of social media, with a challenge to get the creative cogs cranking. Nothing too taxing or time-consuming, just something fun. I did it last year and it opened up a whole section of my right brain, which if I’m honest was already encroaching big time on the analytical and methodical left-side. Now, where was I?
Last year was a revelation, one of the challenges was to draw with the non-dominant hand, in my case the left. Blimey, I haven’t drawn with any hand since school, which was last century, but it turned out rather quirky, so I carried on. In fact, I only draw with my left hand now in my little sketch book which goes everywhere with me. It beats sitting hunched over my phone, I have even been mistaken for an artist, though they were wearing very thick glasses…. But if it hadn’t been for the challenge, I’d never have had the idea to make a mosaic for the hidden fireplace we found when decorating the bedroom, and I’d never have made and hidden nine mosaics in our local woods to protest about litter!
64 Million Artists was started in 2014 by Jo Hunter and David Micklem who just wanted to encourage creativity in school, the workplace, home, everywhere in fact. They have a lovely mission to bring out the creative in us all, the 64 million is us in the UK, I can definitely sign up to that.
So every day this month I’ll be doing something creative and posting it to my Instagram page @stripeyanne. Why don’t you join me? Ten minutes of your day to do something creative. Go on, it could change your life!
When someone drops litter, they’re telling you they don’t care. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me, they probably don’t even care about themselves and they certainly don’t care about the environment.
The mentality that drives people to chuck stuff out of vehicles, cast packaging and wrappers aside while strolling along, talking loudly into their phones, or collect poo from the backsides of their pooches, bag it up and leave it dangling from a tree branch or on a wall for others to find is beyond me.
This reckless behaviour results in our paths, parks, woods and roadsides rustling with wrappers and discarded plastic bottles. At best, it looks terrible, at worst, it’s a danger to wildlife who may eat it or get trapped, or humans who will eventually find a diluted version in their drinking water, for some, they’ll be getting their own back, but unfortunately will have given it to the rest of us too.
A couple of years ago, Leeds City Council started a #onepieceoflitter campaign. The idea was to challenge people to pick up one piece of litter a day. I liked the idea of that, everyone can do it, everyone can make a difference. The more I picked up, the angrier I got about the thoughtlessness of litter louts.
While I was out running, I started picking up litter, bringing home anything I could sensibly carry then disposing of it in the recycle bin wherever possible. I didn’t know it at the time, but there already was an international litter-picking-up movement, known as plogging, which started in Sweden. I’m now proud to call myself a plogger.
I knew that sooner or later I’d have to make some sort of protest, but the usual mechanisms such as writing to my MP, or signing a petition don’t have impact on people’s behaviour and that’s what’s needed. It’s already an offence to drop litter, so the threat of a fine isn’t enough to deter people. So I thought about art, I love art, it reaches the heart and soul, it challenges, it provokes and it looks good. That’s it, I said to myself and the cat sleeping on my computer, I’ll do some rubbish art.
I usually run off-road and love my local woods in Calverley, they are beautiful woods, managed by Leeds City Council and including West Wood, an ancient woodland owned by the Woodland Trust. So why the hell do folk drop litter – and worse? It’s not over-run with the stuff, but there’s enough to spoil it for the rest of us. I plogged many a bagful.
I’d just completed a mosaic for the bedroom fireplace and wanted to do more, it’s very satisfying to make your own jigsaws with coloured glass, though no-one can go around the house barefoot any more. My first thought was to use bits and pieces from my plogging hoard in the mosaic, but that seemed to be saying that the litter had some sort of aesthetic appeal in itself and that’s just not true. Plus it’s stinky.
From there, I hit on the idea of producing a series of nine pieces representing litter I’d plogged, or as in the case of dog poo, just tutted at. I’ve now hidden them in the woods, where they may or may not be found, a bit like the litter they picture. Someone may find them and take them away – great, I hope they pick up some litter too. Someone else may see them and ignore them, do they do that when they see litter? Others may destroy them, I don’t mind, so long as they clear them away. I’m going to visit them from time to time and then remove them in a year, just so I’m not leaving litter.
I hope people who find them enjoy them, but most of all, I hope it’ll make them think about the impact of litter on everyone’s lives.
There’s no polite way to say this, Socks Akers has a fat backside. Six kilos of cat nearly put paid to my part in creating a living, breathing, flowering, fruiting art installation.
I’d agreed to foster 60 seedlings, destined to join 2,440 others in a stunning art installation at Left Bank, Leeds. It was a simple task, plant bean, beetroot, sweetcorn and sunflower seeds in little peat pots and keep them safe for a couple of weeks, water them, watch them grow and return them to their pals. They were very happy in the greenhouse, then the great hunk of black and white fur decided he needed a new place to sleep.
So an emergency trip to the shops later and I was re-potting the pots and giving Socks the evil eye. The seedlings were safe, a little wonky maybe, but most art is a bit wonky, except Mondrian, no wonkiness there.
The 2,500 seedlings were placed in a huge circle in the middle of the huge former church, where they have become Anastasis, an immersive installation representing life and resurrection, somewhere to sit, walk, reflect, enjoy, listen, yes listen, there’s even birdsong. It’s rather lovely.
The seedlings continue to grow in their circle, unimpeded by cats. At the end of the week. Earth Day, the circle will be broken and they will all be offered new homes. I’ll be taking a few, they’ll have pride of place in the allotment.
‘Are you the lady who runs?’ the caller asked. Lady? <Snigger>. Runs? <Double snigger>. It was Radio Leeds who wanted to do an interview about running to music, I don’t run to music, I need to be completely aware of my surroundings, I could trip up at any time, but it was nice to be asked.
It’s not a bad title to have, because I do run, dammit (let’s not talk about being a lady). So why do I run, then? It’s always hard, I’m not a natural. I don’t get awards and I never win races, I’m more likely to come last than first, but I do love it.
For a start, I’m in the great outdoors, whatever the weather, there’s always something to enjoy, the sights, the smells, the splashings. I’m not a keen road runner, I prefer the trails, but if I have to pound the pavements I do, taking in the urban surroundings, watching the flagstones pass under my feet, hey I spotted 5p the other day, I picked it up, I’m from Yorkshire, me.
I love to race, it’s a challenge, I’ve paid for it so I actually have to do it, because, dammit, I’m not wasting money (the whole Yorkshire thing). Sometimes there are medals, or tee-shirts, though never in my size, but always there are team-mates, friends and so many others there to encourage, cheer and generally chivvy me along. It feels good.
Then there’s running with mates, just because I can. Today a baker’s dozen of us met up at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and just ran, looked at art, tried to be art, realised we were nothing like art, ran a bit more, then had coffee and cake, it was glorious. That’s why I run, it’s glorious.
This is Socks Akers, I’m his human. He wants me to tell you that he is a very arty cat. Personally I think he’s more farty than arty, but it’s a free country, for the moment anyway, and every cat has his day. Today it’s Socks’, so here we go.
“I prefer to be known as His Royal Catness, The Great Hunter, Eater of All Things, Except When I Change My Mind and Turn My Back On It, Master of All I Survey, Especially From the Shed Roof, Digger-Up of the Garden, Jumper Upper onto the Wardrobe, Handsomest Cat Ever, but you can call me Sir.
“My life is good. It wasn’t good to start. I played in the road, the car didn’t want to play. I don’t like cars or roads any more, though I’ve learned to tolerate vets. But what the heck is it with the thermometer up the bum? The indignity of it all, don’t they know I’m His Royal Catness? The Royal Bottom is not to be messed with.
“I spent some time in a Cat Rescue, of course I was better than all the other cats there, I had my own throne. Fortunately for them there were a couple of humans I liked, so I chose them and let me take them to their home, I mean my home.
“It’s tough being a cat, seriously it is, you have no idea how hard it is to look good all the time, even when I’m sleeping. I keep having to check my form, legs splayed out, whiskers at a jaunty angle, just the right level of cuteness as I show my fluffy tummy, I like to be aesthetically pleasing.
“Getting to the point, I’d like to invite you to admire a bit of art I’m cultivating. She’s doing all the work, I don’t have opposable thumbs after all, but I’m the creative force behind it. She’s growing seeds for an art installation somewhere that’s not here. Evidently the idea is for 2,500 seedlings to be displayed for humans to look at and immerse themselves in, whatever that means.
“She planted 50 seeds in little pots full of dirt, then put them in a tray in my greenhouse. So I made a suggestion on improving them, aesthetically. I sat on them, I slept on them, I may have squashed them a little, but they were so warm and comfy, and I incubated the seeds. She’ll thank me for it, she really will. I am a very arty cay, though I am now a very sleepy cat, so I’m off, I have some seedlings to sit on.”
Anastasis, an immersive installation, opens at Left Bank Leeds, on Easter Sunday. Socks’ seedlings will be the wonky ones.
Dull, dark with a tendency to depressing, oh and a bit smelly too, especially near the 50p a pee toilets, that’s railway stations for you. Even though the steam trains have long gone and diesel is a thing of the past with these new-fangled electric trains, Leeds station could still do with a brightening up.
Thank goodness then, for arty folk and a passenger bridge with a spare length of glass. The rather wonderful Leeds Inspired, which supports art in the city, managed to penetrate the bureaucracy of Network Rail and get agreement for a real-life artist to brighten up the place a bit, a lot actually.
The artist Supermundane, who is anything but, was set to work to bring colour, vibrancy and a touch of 60s pop art to the station with Super Leeds, a fantastic mural designed to span the main footbridge.
For two fifths of the cost of a pee, I bought two tickets to go on the platform and view this colourfest for myself. The other ticket was for Noel who has volunteered enthusiastically to stand and hold my camera kit while surrounded by passengers hurrying between platforms, pulling those stupid wheelie trollies. He loves standing in crowds while I faff around with my camera.
It was while I was faffing that a portly Network Rail employee approached with that ‘you-can’t-do-that-here’ look. It turns out the look wasn’t for me, it was for Supermundane’s super artwork. I don’t think he was artistically-inclined.
“So that’s supposed to be art, it it?,” he asked, nodding towards the explosion of colour in the otherwise dull station, confirming my suspicion that art didn’t feature much in his day-to-day life.
“It is indeed, ” I said. “And the station is all the better for it”
He shrugged his shoulders and returned to interpreting the train timetables which in their own way are art, well they are works of fiction, eh?
Bravo Leeds Inspired, Bravo Supermundane. Let’s have more art in dull places!
Where has all the colour gone? I thought this as I walked into the office the other day to be met by a wave of black. Black jackets, black skirts, black trousers, black blouses, black scarves and black looks as it became clear I hadn’t just thought it, I’d said it, possibly screamed it.
I was in my usual red and orange combination, and that was just my hair. Why are people so reluctant to embrace colour? I suppose I’m biased, I spent a few years as a colour and image consultant so delighted in helping people to cast off the blacks and greys and find the shade of red that suited them.
In my book, there should be more colour everywhere, especially to brighten up our dull British winters, and especially in dark buildings. I’ve spend quite a bit of time at the very impressive Left Bank centre here in Leeds. It’s a former church, turned arts and music venue. Fabulous space, wonderful acoustics but attractive though the Yorkshire stone is, rather dark and most definitely colourless. It’s also very very cold in there.
Left Bank is huge, its vaulted ceilings supported by massive columns, so I thought what better way to bring a bit of colour and warm the place up than knit collars for the columns? It will be a garter stitch sensation, a moss stitch magnificence, a knit one, purl one art installation radiating colour and warmth.
So I’ve enlisted the help of my friends in the Calverley Knitwits who are knitting squares which I’m sewing together to make as many collars as I can. That’s the deal, they knit, I sew. I’m also accepting knitted squares from anyone else prepared to put yarn to needle. With each column 370cm in circumference, that’s a lot of 15cm squares, but they can stretch a bit, hopefully a lot.
We’ll keep on knitting and sewing until winter, bringing a splash of colour and, as the collars are taken down and made into blankets, some extra warmth.