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ANN’S BLOG


  • Moroccan  alchemy

    I have just got back from a trip to Morocco. I have been several times before and we decided to explore a different area. Chefchaouen, in the Rif mountains, is a paradise for artists- but also for  everyone else! In picturesque places like this I make myself see past the trappings of tourism and look for the underlying atmosphere. The medina is a tangled and confusing muddle of tiny up and down alleyways and streets. I find it best to allow myself to get lost- and once I have that attitude it is amazing how you find your way round instead. I suppose it is a bit like one of my tangled paintings. I lose myself in the textures and loose paintwork then find a path through the semi abstract marks towards a kind of reality.

    The stone, brick or plaster walls of this medina  have rounded corners and edges. Sometimes the paintwork has crumbled off creating rich patina and texture.  Almost all are painted in every imaginable shade of intense blue. I saw french ultramarines, cobalt blues, cerulean, different tones of turquoise, blues that edged towards purple, sky blue, teal and more. These sapphire daytime hues deepened at dusk to shadowy shades of navy. By night-fall the magical dusky alleys took on the soft depths of indigo. It is an exotic oriental patchwork.

     Chefchaouen, Morocco

    When we had taken in enough of the claustrophobia and hassle of the blue town we headed into the mountains.  At the start of the path we passed tourists holding their mobile phones as if their lives depended on them. They looked at the surrounding scene through the screens or placed themselves within the view to take ‘selfies’. I must be turning into a grumpy old woman because I just do not understand this need and actually find the increasing addiction to technology quite depressing.   I feel that I am being left behind.

    As it began to rain we decided that there were two options. We could moan about the weather or look for the positive. Having made our choice we   began to see beauty in our surroundings. How the wet path   shone through the misty drizzle, snaking up the hillside and leading the eye towards ancient groups of silvered olive and golden leaved fig trees. When we followed a similar walk the following morning in bright sunlight we realised that each day had given us a different kind of magic.

     Argan trees? Not olives! 

    When we returned to our riad we chatted to a fellow traveller- he was about to lead a group of young people into the mountains for a week of back to basic living- without their mobile phones!  He was literally coaching them how to view the world in a richer way. He described how someone might be looking for something on their screen that was actually right in front of them.  The conversation felt like a coincidence after our thoughts earlier – and these moments of synchronicity became a theme throughout the rest of the trip in further encounters. It may sound fanciful but it is almost feels like there is a secret invisible energy that connects us all that we are not even aware of- something positive in the air that we are in danger of losing but can still access if we want.

     

     

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  •  Pause for thought

    I have been keeping my eyes open  in recent years and question whether the emphasis in many art books and workshops has swung too far towards technique and use of materials and away from the essential act of making meaningful and personal interpretations. Of course, we need practical information and expertise to help us to crystallize our ideas but  the danger is that the very kernel or initial spark triggering a painting could be diminished in favour of method, effect and (dare I say it?) commerce.

    For a painting to have authenticity and integrity, surely it needs to be based or developed out of something we have personally experienced?  There are always exceptions and we could counter argue that the realm of our imagination is enough. However, I still feel that even that is usually triggered by some kind of knowledge,memory, immersion or happening.   It is so important to spend as much time looking and feeling as ‘doing’. Once we have established what we want to say in our visual commentary, we can then start to explore ‘how’ to distil this into pictures. Without this backbone of personal meaning, artwork is in danger of becoming an empty pastiche.  I hope that I don’t sound judgemental- this is simply my honest appraisal of  potential art ‘market’ pitfalls.

    In my latest book ‘ Watercolour Workshop’ I  have emphasised these thoughts; the importance of  individual interpretation and  ways of seeing. Yes, it is important and fun to experiment and play with methods- this is the way we learn and I will always advocate that- but let’s not forget ‘why’ we are doing it.

    ‘The secret life of bees’ is featured in                       ‘Watercolour Workshop’ and based on my husband’s bee hives partly hidden in some brambles near our local allotment patch.

    After two years of non -stop activity; painting and writing for books, magazines and exhibitions I want to slow down and work in a more mindful way. Therefore, in the last couple of months I have been out and about gathering reference material and ideas, soaking up visual imagery and thinking about what is important and worthwhile to me as person and artist.

     

     

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  • Book Review

    There is a nice review about my book ‘John Blockley-A Retrospective’(Batsford) by Henry Malt in this month’s Artist magazine.

    “John Blockley was a pioneer of what we might call modern, muscular watercolour and a popular author, teacher and demonstrator. Even if his name is perhaps not as familiar as it was even a decade ago, his influence is felt today, not least through the work of his daughter Ann, who has compiled this retrospective. In print, John is best known for 1979’s The Challenge ofWatercolour and Watercolour Interpretations, published in 1987. The former had the limited number of colour illustrations typical of its time and the latter, while more copiously inclusive, does not really come up to modern standards. This nicely selected volume is, therefore, the first time John’s work has been given the treatment in print it merits. His paintings leap off the page and it is possible to appreciate the sheer impact of his use of colour. It’s a tour de force you won’t want to miss.”

    Pennine Farm-water based mediums  c 2001

    The painting above (which  is  not featured in the book) was exhibited in the RI exhibition in 2001.   It’s hanging on my wall at the moment but if anyone is interested in having it on their own wall do please email  me at ann@annblockley.com  . You can find the book   in the shop section of my website.

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  • Exmoor- Light and lichens

    I have recently returned from a rewarding trip to Exmoor where I joined a group of like-minded artists. We sketched, photographed or painted on our own during the day according to our interests, and met up in the evening at local pubs to compare notes and relax.

     beech hedge

    Exmoor is lined with wonderful beech hedges, their woven shapes growing out of stony banks. I love them especially in the autumn when the coppery leaves are still clinging and adding colour. Tiny toadstools and groups of round waxy pennyworts huddled against damp mossy trunks and rocks. The woodlands were swathed in bracken and beams of low light seemed to search for and illuminate certain plants like a spotlight giving them a moment of fame. This is an opportunity for the artist to add a focal point to the otherwise wild and decorative patterns of nature.  Some ferns had faded or bleached to a pale ochre colour reminding me of a brittle and yellowing piece of intricate Victorian lacework.

    After exploring the wood I decided to head over to open moorland and see if I could find some windswept hawthorns. I am still following the project that I set in my book Watercolour Workshop and am always looking out for new versions of my favourite trees to explore . I prefer these slightly scruffy commoners to the grander glories of tall and specimen trees.  I drove through narrow high hedged tracks until I reached the cattle grid which meant I had arrived. My heart soared as I soon discovered that the way across the wild landscape was lined with perfect subjects.  Some of them were silhouetted against a backdrop of coastline that looked towards Wales.

    As I leapt around excitedly the temperature suddenly plummeted. The air became painfully icy and a bitter wind   crept through the frozen fingers of the hawthorn branches. Their gnarled and fissured bark and twisting shapes writhed and stretched in protest.  An eerie pink glow across the sky was the only warning that hailstones were about to lash furiously across the hillside. This stopped as quickly as it began and the early evening sun counteracted with an intense and extraordinary light. It etched highlights around each grassy tummock and shone through the nets of hawthorn twigs. A small holly tree stood staunchly on the other side of the path, its trunk and branches bathed in light.

     Hawthorn

    Holly

    I felt overloaded with so much information and imagery filling my senses. However, I could not resist the tip off I was given by my B&B hostess about a secret valley where the best lichen was to be found.  The following morning I left the car on the side of an ordinary road and walked across an unpromising field. As the path descended on the other side of a gate I instantly encountered the most amazing hawthorns, dripping with fronds of lichen which dangled like wisteria from the tree. Strong sunlight turned it pale as blossom and its ribbons fluttered in a breeze through the russet and scarlet haws. A precious  moment and  parting gift as I headed back home.

     

     

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  • Dartmoor

    After the  hectic events  this year I needed a break and we have just  spent a few days  on Dartmoor. Walks through moorland, ancient woodland,  gushing rivers, ferns, lichen, moss- it’s a painter’s heaven. But not just that- in three days we met so many interesting , alternative, friendly and artistic people that I can’t wait to go back. Admittedly, the sun was shining, we had more than our fair share of cream teas and  it’s my favourite time of year but even so- this place has a special and unique magic. ( Actually -it’s horrible- don’t go- I want it all for myself). So now I ‘m back in my studio, replenished and looking forward to a few month’s creativity – starting NOW!

    Here’s some photos.

     

     

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  • John Blockley exhibition- update

    It was terrific having  an exhibition of my father’s artwork in the studio- drawings and paintings that had either been stored away for many years or contributed by members of the family.  Thank you to  so many of you for coming and sharing your many stories about how he had influenced or even totally changed lives- both from a  personal and creative perspective. Members of the ‘Blockley Group’ came from as far  afield as Australia- especially to see the work  and get together. Many other well known artists  came to visit- I loved  in particular having coffee with Shirley Trevena in my kitchen and swapping tales. ( I should say that I’m sorry to name drop- but I’m not really!) My father had a great sense of humour and loved to draw cartoons- and so does Shirley.  She sent me a copy of her hilarious  booklet of cartoons when she got home, describing the terrors and joys we all share in our artist’s lives.

    I was asked if I felt sad to see some of John’s artwork  from my private collection go- but it was actually the opposite. Between us, the family have a lot of  paintings and it felt very uplifting to let go of some of them and think that they were to be enjoyed by someone else. It has been a really cathartic  experience doing both the exhibition and book (which I am happy to say is currently being reprinted in  a second edition).  However,  it felt  fantastic getting my studio back to normal and re-installing my own work. It feels like  the start of a new era and my priority now is to start work on  paintings for the RI exhibition next year. No more procrastination… (but will just have a coffee first).

     

     

     

     

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  • John Blockley – Retrospective Exhibition September 2018

    John Blockley RI PPS RWA NEAC  ( 1921-2002)

     

    I have  been getting ready for the exhibition that I am curating at my studio  of my late father’s work. I  had always wanted to put together a retrospective book of his work and this came to fruition in July. An exhibition was the obvious  follow up.  A large quantity of work had been stored in a plan chest or in cupboards for  over sixteen years   and it seemed a crime  for them not to be  seen. Hopefully, some will end up on people’s walls-  but also it will be lovely  for fans to simply come and enjoy looking at this collection. There is a range of different images for sale  some of which are featured in the recent book but lots of other work  too and a wide range of sketches and drawings that have been arranged in  portfolios according to subject, place or other related matter.

    Pembrokeshire cottages by John Blockley

    This year has been busy to say the least.  ‘Watercolour Workshop’ was published in March this year and ‘John Blockley – A Retrospective’ in July .It was the publishers request to do them so close together and it has certainly kept me on my toes!  What I had not realised was that this year was also going to be the year I  made it into the RI ( Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour). My father was elected when I was a child  and I can still remember my parent’s excitement when they found out- it was like he had been made king!

    I attended my very first RI exhibition as an exhibitor in Tenby, Pembrokeshire in Wales this July. It was held in the  Naomi Tydeman RI gallery .  She asked me to send her  one of John’s book. In it  there is a painting that  he did  in the very early days when he was first learning to paint. I  did not know where it was so simply called it ‘fishing harbour’. Naomi immediately recognised it as being Tenby and I felt ridiculously pleased to discover this.  It had almost certainly been painted on a family holiday and somehow , with the RI connection , it felt like something had been completed.

    I  deliberately planned a  series of events  this  year  which would eventually lead to a quieter , more contemplative time of creativity. I am so looking forward to  this John Blockley exhibition-   It will be an informal event and a one off opportunity to see this work in the flesh.  After that – it’s  ‘Me time’.

     

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  • Online exhibition- updated

    I have just updated my online exhibition taking all the sold paintings off and adding  ten new  images to the collection.  Other than some large paintings  in a few art  galleries   and exhibitions around the country that are taking place  right now or reserved for gallery events in the autumn these are the only original paintings now available. It has been a crazy year!   The image shown here  called ‘through the gate’ is another loose  interpretation of a painting that  I  featured in my book ‘Watercolour workshop’.  I came across this  old bent iron gate   wedged between large stones  when exploring a magical mountain lane in Wales.

     

    ‘Through the gate’ is now available from the online exhibition  at £275 plus p&p

     

     

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  • Arborealists and other artists- John Davies Gallery

    The exhibition by members of the Arborealists and other artists has begun at the John Davies Gallery in  Moreton in Marsh . I went to the private view at the weekend and was blown away by the quality of the artwork.  All the paintings  celebrate trees and nature but in a huge array of styles and mediums.   Some of the usual gallery artists  were invited to contribute to the show including one of my favourites, David Tress.  I am feeling very proud to be exhibiting alongside these incredible artists-

    John Davies has said  of the current exhibition “These are paintings to truly contemplate. They are works of art that can slow us down. ” I hope that this will be one of the most absorbing exhibitions that we have ever staged at the gallery.”

    The exhibition is featured in this week’s Country life as their pick of what to see in the UK  and my painting ‘Green Tree’  has been used to illustrate this ( it sold at the pv!) For further information please visit www.johndaviesgallery

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • ‘Finding Me’

     

    I thought  I was the butterfly

    fluttering against  the pane

    to seek an opening through

    and hide  my deckle edged wings

    among spotted  ragged leaves

    in a tangled land  of bramble

    I thought I was the moth-

    a kind of butterfly goth,

    strange outlier of the night,

    waiting for the light,

    unfurled  at last from my cocoon

    And reaching for the moon

    I thought I was the bee

    in a shape shifting swarm,

    searching for a new place

    where I would feel at home-

    A hive filled with the golden hum

    of sweetness and activity

    I thought I was the tree

    with bare and broken bough

    But where the wind tore

    parts of me away I saw-

    the tiny buds of hopeful  leaves

    And a different story grow

     

    I thought I was a metaphor-

    that I could metamorphose

    into something more,

    and with morse code marks

    create an allegory.

    But I reached another page

    and realised  after all-

      that I was simply…  me

     

     

    Ann Blockley 2017- A first poem

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