chalk and coal part 1

May 29, 2011

As I write we are barreling along through the northern countryside of England toward London. We have just spent two weeks at an arts residence in Wakefield researching places of interest and landscapes that will help us create work based on our chalk and coal thesis; that England, like many places, has evolved culturally from geologic formations and vice versa. We came here a few thousand dollars short even though we raised a good sum from many private and public sources, but England is still pricey and our 20 pound a day budget is very hard to keep to.

We have spent our time here being chauffeured around to many interesting places and landscapes by a fantastic group of well educated, art loving intellectuals and artists who were in some way connected with the coal mines. The recovered land around Wakefield is quickly hiding a three hundred year coal mining tradition which was prematurely closed overnight by none other than Margaret Thatcher in the mid eighties. In the past twenty years the West Yorkshire area and its residents have had to completely redefine who they are and what they should do. Almost everyone we met was deeply affected by the closers because that is all their families did for generations. This is a noble community full of feisty intelligence, rebellious and entrepreneurial spirit and yet there is a definite sadness – and yet there is great art! Henry Moore was born in the area and he is a great hero here since he was working class and his dad a miner. We visited his school, home and various local works scattered around. There was also a powerful retrospective on in Leeds which featured his fantastic Underground and mining drawings.

While we were here the Hepworth Wakefield (Barbara Hepworth was famed local sculptor who is best known for working out of Cornwall) Gallery opened. This was considered extraordinary since England is suffering terribly from the recession and is experiencing austerity cuts that would make us in Canada squirm. It had a troubled time getting open since the people here seemed ambivalent. But we were lucky enough to attend a wonderful opening night party and go a few days later. Small but lovely, we think ‘The Hepworth’ has real potential.

The landscape around Wakefield is gorgeous with famous Yorkshire red brick buildings, medieval architecture (apparently Cromwell attacked the Pontefract Castle), and dales and moors. We loved it. And the disappearing coal mines also made for that unusual sense of ‘the land that time forgot’. Evocative and inspiring, we are going home with loads of information for artwork.
But we would have to say the best aspect of our trip so far has been the people. The great night we had in London with pal Lancton in Notting Hill and our Yorkshire hosts, Brian, Bob, Anne & Cameron, Lisa, Harry, Lorna, David the people at the National Coal Mining museum and all the other wonderful people around Wakefield who make it a very special place. It is an amazing community full of resilience and dignity (with the exception of young local girls who spent most nights imitating The Jersey Shore outside our residence window?!?!). And, they have invited us back for an exhibition and possible national tour!!
The trip so far has gone beyond our expectations and we are only now heading to the chalk cliffs to complete our research. We are looking forward to the channel, the cliffs and long meandering hiking… and apparently the best fish and chips in England.