Harland Miller’s tale as we enter what would have been the last week of his York show…

Harland Miller in a quiet moment of coffee reflection at the February 21 opening of his homecoming York Art Gallery exhibition, later curtailed by the Covid-19 lockdown. Picture: Charlotte Graham

THIS week should have been the last chance to see York tragic-comic Pop artist and writer Harland Miller’s largest ever solo exhibition in his home city.

Four years in the talking and curating, Harland Miller: York, So Good They Named It Once was due to run at York Art Gallery from February 21 to May 31 2020, but then Covid-19 determined that the shutters should come down in the latter pages of March’s diary.

All artistic eyes may now be on Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 Monday night series Grayson’s Art Club, but here is one last opportunity to hear Miller’s tale, if you alas never saw the show featuring his best-known series, the Penguin Book Covers and the Pelican Bad Weather Paintings.

These works directly refer to the 56-year-old artist’s relationship with York, the city where he was born and grew up before moving to London, as well as making wider reference to the culture and geography of Yorkshire as a whole.

The titles are all sardonic statements on life: for example, York, So Good They Named It Once; Whitby – The Self Catering Years; Rags to Polyester – My Story and Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore.

In these works, he marries aspects of Pop Art, abstraction and figurative painting with a writer’s love of text, using his own phrases, some humorous and absurd, others marked by a lush melancholia.

In addition to the dust-jacket paintings, Miller was showing works from his recent Letter Painting series: canvasses made up of overlaid letters to form short words or acronyms in a format inspired by the illuminated letters of medieval manuscripts.

“I wanted to go as far the other way as possible and use just one word, one short word at that, and see if that word would convey as much as a whole sentence,” he says.  “I hoped the answer to this would be ‘yes’. In fact that was one of the first words I painted. YES.”

Significantly, Harland has not done a NO: testament to all that positivity the new works exude.

“If you’re wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside in February,” he said at the launch, “It’s because these works are so bright!”

“If you wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside, it’s because these works are so bright,” says Harland Miller. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Here Harland Miller answers a series of questions on York, art and more besides.

What do you recall of growing up in Yorkshire?

“Well…for me…looking back on it, it seems like it was great! Idyllic even. But can it have been? Really? I dunno. I understand nostalgia – the way that works, because it’s one of the main themes in my own work – so, when I look back, I do try not to get caught up in it. I think it’s just inevitable that you do, though.

“I mean I think its counter-intuitive to reminisce about the bad times…isn’t it? I think the key phrase is ‘growing up’ because – yes, there were definitely things happening that were not great and must have worried my mum and dad… like, say, the power cuts for instance

“But as a kid – growing up I only remember the [Three Day Week] black-outs as being great! I even looked forwards to them and was sad when the power came back on and showed up all the cracks.

“I think it was because, y’know, mainly, it was a time when the family were all together. I was the youngest of three. My brother Baz was ten years older (still is), so when I was like eight, he was 18 and out on his motorbike with his gang of biker mates called The Ton Up Gang.

“The Ton was slang for doing 100mph and back in those days wearing a helmet was not yet compulsory… so pretty stressful for my mum, I think.

“My sister Helen, she was five years older than me (and sadly died at 46, so is now not still five years older – in fact I’m now ten years older than she will ever be – but in my mind she is still my big sister, just as she was when she was 13 and seemed like quite the grown-up,  going to discos and the like).

“The Bop, I recall, in New Earswick was one such spot. And the Cats Whiskers up Fulford Road way. Such evocative names. I used to think, ‘Wow, Cats Whiskers! The Bop…Thee Bop! Wow! Must be so wild!”

“Maybe it was. I never went. I was too young to even hang round street corners then. So, I’d be in watching telly. Watching one of the three channels, one of which was BBC2, which didn’t ever seem to really broadcast anything apart from the test card.

“A young girl with a toy clown, I think. She’ll be getting on now, I imagine, that girl. But a little like my sister, she’s frozen in time – not just at that age but frozen in an era.

“Anyway, the point is that as a family we were all doing different things, and so I remember the ‘black-out’ bringing us all together round the kitchen table, playing these never-ending games of Monopoly by candlelight.

Ace! Becky Gee, curator of fine art at York Art Gallery, stands by a work that sums up the public reaction to Harland Miller’s biggest ever solo show. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“I loved that but, like I say, that was my experience of it. If that were happening now, I’d spend the whole black-out thinking, ‘Where is this heading?’ and my younger self might be in a bad mood because he couldn’t charge his phone.

“There were unadulterated good times too though, like ‘Factory Fortnight’. My dad worked at Rowntrees on Black Magic and in the summer we would go to Scarborough for a week and take a chalet on the front. That really was magic.

“I feel so sad when I go back and see some of those chalets all boarded up or vandalised – I mean who’d vandalise a chalet? How tough do you have to be to vandalise a chalet? Go and vandalise the offices of the person who decided to concrete over one of the best Art Deco pools I’ve ever seen on the South Bay – that was a criminal act! It’s now a roller-skating rink and I’ve never seen anyone on there roller skating.

“Anyway, apart from that, it’s hard to summarise a childhood in a few words but if pushed, I’d say – on very careful consideration and without bias – Yorkshire was the best place to grow up in the solar system!”

What are your memories of your early life as an artist?

“It began when I was at school. I was in a kind of remedial class called Peanuts and the aim was just to get through it. There were only two of us in it and we both liked and had some aptitude for art, so the school at some level decided to make every lesson an art lesson.

“But because there had to be a practical application to everything, I was asked to turn my talents to making some ‘Keep Our School Tidy’ posters. This was the first commission I ever had and led to many more

“After the posters were put up all around school, they proved a big hit and the hardest kid at the school asked me…asked me! Ha!…told me he wanted me to paint ‘Shakin’ Stevens’ on his denim jacket, I did. No choice really.

“That was a big hit too and from that I got a lot more commissions, not just from Shaky fans but Mods, Rockers, Punks, Soulies (those into Northern Soul) and guys into CB Radio (these were all guys as well – no girls into CB for some reason) and many more types besides.

“The prices were five quid for a denim jacket; more for a leather. Tenner for a lid. £12 for a full lid. Pretty soon I was making more than the teachers and I saw that you could do the thing that everyone said you could not – which was make a living as an artist.”

Wall to wall Harland Miller at York Arty Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How have York and Yorkshire influenced your work?

“I could best describe this in a way by talking, not about my art, but another artist’s work who’s also from Yorkshire: David Hockney.  When Hockney was in England, he made paintings about Typhoo Tea and when he arrived in LA [Los Angeles], he was amazed and enthralled – if they are not the same thing – to see that people had swimming pools in their back gardens.

“It was as commonplace a thing to them as his mother’s back yard was to him. Consequently, because they were commonplace, nobody had ever thought about painting the pools under their noses, so to speak!

“But it took a guy coming from Yorkshire to say, ‘Wow, I’m gonna paint this…this isn’t real…I must be dreaming’ and in point of fact, there is that surreal quality to those works, I think.

“I suppose I’m presenting that old cliche of ‘taking the Yorkshireman out of Yorkshire’.  How’s it go? Y’know what I mean though? You can take the Yorkshireman out of Yorkshire.

“Also, my dad Ned, was something of a self-styled Communist. I remember waking past a restaurant with him and him looking in and saying, ‘Some of these fellas think nothing about having a glass of wine’.

“I recall thinking to myself, ‘Yeah…I’d like to think nothing about having a glass of wine too, instead of listening to you talking about central planning’, and in the spirit of rebellion, I told him I was moving to London.

‘What you gonna do there?’, he said. “It’s a pound for a cup of tea!” I replied that I was quite done with tea and all that and was gonna be living it up…on wine!”

Exit Yorkshire, enter Chelsea School of Art. What happened?

“When I got to London, it was borne in on me – almost immediately – not just how much I missed tea, but just exactly who I was.  Suffice to say, if I’d stayed in Yorkshire, I don’t think I would have made the Bad Weather Paintings, which are many things…many things… but high among those things, they are clearly celebratory.

“They are satire too, sure, but I am – I’ve been told – unusual in that I like bad weather, within reason of course.

“A while back a doctor told me ‘one bit of good news’ was my body stored vitamin D to an unusual degree, so I can go for a long time without biologically missing the sun…so I guess that could account for being immune to drizzle.

“And, if it’s not stretching it too much to say it’s there, is also that sense of identity with Yorkshire. We could call it ‘Vitamin Y’ maybe, something I store and carry around with me.

“Of course, I need to see the sun every now and then and I need to come back to Yorkshire intermittently too – though actually I come back a fair bit. Most of my family are still here.”

Harland Miller: Back home in the city that inspired his spoof Pelican book title. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How and why do you use text so prominently in your work?

“I can explain that best in the series from which the York painting [York, So Good They Named It Once] comes because, in this series, more than the other book paintings, I’ve tried to paint them in a way that evokes the subject which is suggested in the title.

“With the Bad Weather theme of course that style pretty much suggests itself and the properties of paint can be handled to evoke the sense of rain running down window panes, heavy sea, heavy cloud, indeterminable drizzle.

“Artists often talk about ‘light’ and they follow the light to St Ives or Florence or somewhere, but these paintings are the opposite of that, I think. They are more about, I don’t want to say the dark internal stuff, but can I say that anyway? Maybe I actually mean introspection.

“And maybe that’s maybe why people have this personal connection to the work, because it provides a moment of introspection.

“Humour also can break a form of tension that arises when looking at a work of art in a formal space. And this is important, this laughter thing, because after that tension is broken, there is a freedom behind it, I think, and that happens very rarely. Indeed, most artists would be pretty affronted if you laughed at their work.

“People used to write me and ask me what my work meant:  this was when it was abstract, and actually they used to ask what the hell it meant, but since I’ve been making work in which there is text – words, a suggested narrative – people write me and tell me what my work means to them!

“This is great because it obviously saves me the bother, but moreover, these stories are often incredibly personal and intimate and I never would ever want to say anything that might spoil or override the meaning that they had given it.

“Was it Samuel Beckett who said, ‘It means whatever you want it to mean’ in relation to Waiting For Godot? I really loved that feeling of a stripped-back set of references, park bench, two guys… the way it elevates the mundane…and waiting and waiting and that sense of an endless beginning.

“I thought, when I saw it, which was admittedly when I was 15, it was very positive and I hope that’s a sense that these paintings have too: a suggested narrative, a starting point.

“I mean there’s an obvious reference here to the moment you’re holding a book in your hand and contemplating the cover and the title too…and the story waiting for you inside…but I’m also playing with scale as an implied comment on the content of the book.” 

Artist Harland Miller removes his glasses at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

How was this solo show in York curated?

“Though we discussed many approaches and different styles of work to be included, it was obvious to all of us that the show was always going to be hung around the Bad Weather Paintings about Yorkshire towns – and it is!

“This series has been collected internationally, which is just wonderful to think of. Some of them I hadn’t seen since they left the studio. I happen to know, for example, the Bridlington painting is on permanent display in Texas – arid Texas! – so it only seemed right that they at some point should be shown here in York at the York City Art Gallery, the place where I first encountered painting. It’s great to see that painting in York.

“I’m not even going to say it’s a dream come true to show here because, back then, when I was a kid sneaking round the gallery feeling like I didn’t belong, it was actually beyond my wildest dreams to be showing here.

“And I think it’s been curated in that spirit – in the spirit of celebration… but also of the future. Even away from even away from the Bad Weather Paintings, the works we have chosen have been more positive examples of what’s on offer.

“This is ironic, really, as the one place on Earth where the black humour in the work is understood and will not get me misinterpreted is here in Yorkshire, but maybe we’ve second-guessed that.

“Even the Hell paintings are positive, and I think, I hope, the visitor will leave with a kind of an UP feeling.

“In fact UP is one of the letter paintings from the latest series. The name I’ve given the series, Letter Paintings, is a bit flat, I must say, but it literally comes from the illuminated letters that you find in a medieval manuscripts, which seem to need no extra fanfare!

“These letters were painstakingly hand drawn and coloured by the monks, where the first letter of the first word in these manuscripts were always given this highly detailed embellishment. It works as an intensifier really. It gives a fanfare to the page, to the first line.

“When I left school, I happened to be one 0-level short of the five you needed to get into art school and so they asked me if I wanted to come on the course and while there go to night school and take the requisite qualifications to stay on the course.

“I said ‘yes’ and was amazed you could take an A-level in lettering. That was how and when I encountered the monks’ art in detail for the first time. I loved it and actually rendered one of these illuminated letters for my final exam, I recall.

“My background in copying all sorts of heavy metal type fonts on to the backs of denim jackets really stood me in good stead for making a painting on parchment and it gave me a practised hand for rendering lettering too.

“But the best thing was it gave me a life-long appreciation of type faces and the art of hand lettering, For a while, I wanted to be a sign painter: a guy who went around painting those swinging signs you get above pub doorways in the country.

“But the other the thing I wanted to do, in this new series, was to try and convey a story – encapsulate a narrative – but not in an aphorism or maxim but in a single word.

“I wanted to go as far the other way as possible and use just one word, one short word at that, and see if that word would convey as much as a whole sentence. 

“I hoped the answer to this would be ‘yes’. In fact that was one of the first words I painted. YES.”

Back to front: Harland Miller walks towards his Pelican Books spoof cover York, So Good They Named It Once. Picture: Charlotte Graham

What are you saying about York in that picture title on a retro book cover, York, So Good They Named It Once, now replicated on posters, mugs, key rings, fridge magnets and tote bags?

“People have thought ‘York, So Good They Named It Once’ must be satirical, comparing York to New York, whereas I thought I was riffing on York being first; being very important way before New York – and being a Roman capital too.

“It was also a place of so many firsts for me; where I did my first paper round, and through these streets I can go and remember things that happened to me. Like my first kiss on some old wasteland on Taddy Road [Tadcaster Road], that’s now a Tesco.

“And just round the corner from here, behind the library, I smoked my first joint. That’s why I got hooked on books…because I was by the library!

“This gallery is where I first saw paintings. Is it a dream to be back here? The answer is ‘No’, because, as a boy, it would have been foolish to dream of such a thing.”

What was Penguin’s initial reaction to your York artwork and other Penguin Book Covers?

“I tried to get Penguin to come round to it, but they were talking of suing me. But then in came a new CEO, John Makinson, who was a bit groovier than the previous one!

“The new CEO had received a picture of the York painting, and when Stephen Fry said ‘what nonsense to sue him, we need to back him’, it made an impact, so I have to say thank you to Stephen.

“I thought I was being invited to Penguin to get sued, but it went from that to being invited to lunch and John said, ‘I’d really like to commission something from you’. I was there with my [art] dealer Jay Jopling, from White Cube, and it became a commission for 14 works for their foyers etc.

“It was great not to be sued, but then maybe I felt it lost its edge, but I enjoy doing them so much and I’ve never said I’ll not do another one.”

Death, What’s in it For Me?, by Harland Miller, oil on canvas, 2007, copyright Harland Miller, Photo copyright: White Cube (Stephen White)

Why is Blackpool included in your Bad Weather Paintings series when all the others feature Yorkshire places such as Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Sandsend?

“Blackpool is the exception that proves the rule! As a child I just assumed Blackpool was in Yorkshire because we only ever went to Yorkshire!

“What inspired that series is I remember there was a kind of re-branding of Britain going on in the 1980s, and I wondered if it was all being done from London, as it was chronic, and I thought ‘why can’t it be done in-house?’.

“I set about re-branding Yorkshire seaside towns and villages, but to say it wasn’t necessary because they retained their charm and didn’t need a Balearic feel to their branding as it doesn’t suit these towns with all their rain! I remember sheltering under kagools in the 1970s, and that’s what these paintings are a homage to.”

Words first, then imagery?

“Once I’ve decided on the text, then I’ll decide on how to paint them, but once I’m painting, then I lose the sense of what the words say and I’m just making sure it works as a painting.

“In fact, I have a wall of text in my studio that I can’t use because I can’t make the words work graphically.

“But I also know that if people don’t like the words, they won’t like the painting.”

Why do you enjoy playing with words?

“I like how by changing one letter, or one word, you can change the whole meaning, like ‘Have Faith In Cod’ for Scarborough or ‘Something Tells Me Nothing’s Going To Happen Tonight’ for Bridlington.

“When I lost my sister Helen, she requested her ashes be scattered in Scarborough, and the next morning there was a sea fret, and I remember looking out over the sea, and on the sand was written Have Faith In Cod, and when a dog ran through it, it changed it to God. It seemed apt. Helen did have faith in God…and in cod.”

The Miller’s tale: Harland Miller is writing his memoir. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Aside from painting, what else are you working on, Harland?

“I’m writing a memoir at the moment. In fact I’m way behind with it; I’m currently nine years old dreading being ten.

“Some people turn pale when I say I’m writing my memoir, which at first wasn’t an encouraging reaction, but they later explained they thought this was something that one did when one was nearing one’s end,  when the doctor has told you to get your affairs in order or, y’know, ‘not buy an LP’.

“But I think it’s not a bad idea to start it around now. I’m 56 and I think I’ve still got really good recall but that could change at any time, and it would be pretty – make that  very – frustrating to write a life story if you couldn’t remember any of it. That’s the way my dad went – with the Alzheimer’s. So distressing.  

“That’s why it was originally titled I’ll Never Forget What I Can’t Remember, but as I’m chronically superstitious, I’ve changed it to One Bar Electric Memoir.

“When I left home 37 years ago, my mum gave me a one-bar electric heater. It had frayed pre-war wiring and no handle, which made it very hard to carry. She said ‘there was no mad rush to bring it back’. It’s the one thing that’s been everywhere with me and, actually, I’ve still got it. It’s very reassuring.

“I plug it in when I’m writing and, as the filament heats up, it gives off this smell of, well, of a filament heating up, but it takes me right back to a million bedsits, almost more than the reflective dish behind, which gives off this insane orange reflection. It actually does feel like I’m plugging into the past.”

Luv action: Charles Hutchinson and Celestine Dubruel at the Harland Miller exhibition launch

Did you know?

Harland Miller designed the wedding invitation for pop star Ellie Goulding and art dealer Caspar Jopling’s service at York Minster in August 2019. “I’m her favourite artist,” says Harland.

Could Jorvik Viking Centre, DIG and Barley Hall visitor attractions reopen on July 4?

Back on track? Plans are under way for Jorvik Viking Centre to reopen in July

JORVIK Viking Centre, DIG: An Archaeological Adventure and Barley Hall are developing plans for re-opening, as soon as government Covid-19 advice deems it safe to do so. 

So much so that bookings are being taken for time slots from July 4, subject to governmental rubber-stamping.

As the summer season looms ever closer, the team at the three York attractions is exploring ways to make them accessible within social-distancing guidelines, including a move towards pre-booked visits only and extended opening hours over the summer.

A tentative re-opening is being planned for York’s retail sector from the start of June, prompting the director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, Sarah Maltby, to hope there will be “the critical mass of visitors for attractions to open in July”. Albeit this would be a somewhat different experience for visitors, taking into account requirements for cleaning and social distancing.

“Nobody really knows how people will react post-lockdown, but the best guidance we’re getting from the industry suggests that local people will stay close to home, with those living in tourism hotspots welcoming friends and relatives for short breaks,” says Sarah.

“Our own research shows people keen to return as soon as it is deemed safe to do so, and also if they are confident that attractions can provide a socially distanced experience, so we’re adapting our operating plans accordingly to manage low levels of visitor flow where this can be maintained.

DIG: An Archaeological Adventure: Plans to introduce enhanced series of presentations, protective equipment in the digging pits and more to see within the gallery spaces

“It is challenging, especially with indoor attractions, but we are no strangers to challenging circumstances and have a brilliant team who come up with innovative solutions to maintain great visitor experiences.”

One important change will be a move towards pre-booked visits only, in order to help control visitor flow and numbers, as well as extended hours over the key summer months.  “We will do away with the famous Jorvik queue around St Mary’s Square with clearly designated time slots for a limited number of visitors every 20 minutes,” says Sarah. 

“Within the building, in Coppergate, free-flow areas like the galleries will be more structured with presentations delivered by our Viking interpreters, rather than video content or handling sessions.”

Sarah continues: “The ride experience around the reconstructed Viking city will stay the same, albeit with increased cleaning regimes, and capsules will be exclusive to groups that arrive together.

“So we’re confident we can deliver a great experience where visitors can learn just as much as ever about the Vikings in York – in fact, some people will certainly prefer the far quieter experience, making it a great time for locals to rediscover the heritage on their own doorstep.”

Similar operational plans are being developed for Barley Hall, in Coffee Yard,  and DIG, at St Saviour’s Church, St Saviourgate, including relocating the Barley Hall shop to another part of the building, allowing greater space at the entrance for those visiting to wait for their time slots and creating a useful one-way system around the hall.

Barley Hall: Relocating the shop and creating a one-way system around the building

DIG will introduce an enhanced series of presentations, as well as protective equipment within the digging pits and more to see within the gallery spaces.

All sites will have sanitising hand gel available at regular points in the attraction, plus sneeze guards and floor markings. In addition, they have been implementing increased cleaning programmes since the pandemic first breached British shores, in particular fully disinfecting the attractions during the shutdown.

“As a charity, we rely on the income from our visitor attractions to support much of our research programmes, so we will do everything we can to keep these attractions open, operating and appealing, but safety has to come first,” says Sarah.

 “We are watching how the pandemic plays out, and will continue to adapt to the latest guidance and recommendations, so our visitors can be reassured that they can visit safely.” 

As trailed earlier, bookings are now being taken for time slots at the three attractions from July 4, pending confirmation from the Government that attractions and museums can open. 

Any updates and changes will be advised directly to ticket holders and shared across social media channels. In the meantime, virtual visitors can enjoy Discover From Home experiences on the Jorvik website: jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk/discover-from-home.

Nothing happening in these slightly loosened Lockdown limbo days. Everything called off. Here are More Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. LIST No. 6

Nothing happening full stop. Now, with time on your frequently washed hands, home is where the art is and plenty else besides

EXIT 10 Things To See Next Week in York and beyond for the unforeseeable future in Stay Alert, but still sort-of-inert, Baby-Step Britannia. Make do with home entertainment, wherever you may be, in whatever configuration that you interpret the Government’s green-for-go rules now permits in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. From behind his door ajar, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Alan Ayckbourn and Heather Stoney in their Scarborough garden. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Arts event of the week ahead and beyond: Alan Ayckbourn’s Anno Domino, online from May 25 to June 25

WHEN the Coronavirus pandemic meant Truth Will Out would not be out this summer at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn responded by writing a new play in lockdown, Anno Domino.

And not only write and direct it, but perform in the audio recording too, marking his return to acting, 58 years after his last appearance on a professional stage.

What’s more, former radio producer Ayckbourn, 81, has teamed up with his wife, actress Heather Stoney, his co-star in that 1964 production, to record the new show.

His 84th play takes the form of an audio account of the break-up of a long-established marriage and the domino effect that has on family and friends, Ayckbourn and Stoney playing four characters each, aged 18 to 75. “We were just mucking about in our sitting room,” says Ayckbourn, who also supplied the sound effects.

The world premiere of Anno Domino will be available for free exclusively on the SJT’s website, sjt.uk.com, from noon on Monday, May 25 to noon on June 25. 

York Musical Theatre Company in Off-Stage But Online 2, Sunday, 7.30pm

AFTER the success of the inaugural Off-Stage But Online! concert on April 26, York Musical Theatre Company return with a second digital performance on Sunday, live on the company’s YouTube channel from 7.30pm.

This weekend’s programme is compiled by musical director Paul Laidlaw again and features 25 numbers performed at home by Matthew Ainsworth, Jessa & Mick Liversidge, John Haigh, Eleanor Leaper, Chris Hagyard and Florence Taylor, among others.

Expect video recordings of numbers from Rent, Les Miserables, Heathers, A Chorus Line, Follies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Company and Showboat.

Fieri Consort: Online concert from the National Centre for Early Music archives

National Centre for Early Music streamed concerts, May 30 and June 13

THE NCEM, in Walmgate, York, continues to share concerts from its archive on Facebook and online. The next will be on Saturday, May 30, featuring one of the last concerts by the European Union Baroque Orchestra, captured in March 2017.

On June 13 comes the chance to enjoy music by past winners of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, a double bill featuring Fieri Consort from 2017 and last year’s winners L’Apothéose.

To view these concerts for free at 1pm, follow https://www.facebook.com/yorkearlymusic/ or log on to the NCEM website, ncem.co.uk.

Barbara Marten in the role of Heworth housewife and suffragette Annie Seymour Pearson in York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s community production Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes

Still streaming: Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, York Theatre Royal Collective Arts programme

YORK Theatre Royal is streaming the 2017 community play Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes for free on its YouTube channel until May 31.

Co-produced with Pilot Theatre, this outdoor and indoor production was performed by a community cast of 150 and a choir of 80, taking the form of a protest play that recalled how women in York ran safe houses, organised meetings, smashed windows and fire-bombed pillar boxes as part of the early 20th century Suffragette movement.

“Now the stage is dark and the streets are empty, but looking back to the way in which that show brought people together, inspiring them in so many ways, is a wonderful reminder of the power of theatre and community,” says playwright Bridget Foreman.

York artist Sue Clayton’s stairs, newly painted in rainbow-coloured trim

Activity of the week: Decorating your house in the bright spring light

BE inspired by York portrait artist Sue Clayton, whose painting of Sainsbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair, from her York Heroes series in 2018, appeared on the first episode of Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 show Grayson’s Art Club.

“The urge to paint left me temporarily, which frightened me, but home decorating began instead and my creativity was encouraged this way, from ripping up the stairs carpet and painting the stairs in rainbow colours to remember this period, through to painting a cupboard with a Chinese heron/crane,” she says.

Maybe a Chinese heron would be too ambitious as a starting point, but painting the stairs in rainbow colours…?

 Jeff Beck: New date for York Barbican show in 2021

Still keep trying to find good news

LEEDS Festival in late-August, cancelled. York Early Music Festival’s summer of Method & Madness in July, off. Jeff Beck at York Barbican this week, not now. The list of cancellations shows no sign of coming to an end, but always look on the bright side of strife by seeking out updates on websites.

Leeds Festival at Bramham Park will return in 2021; so too will York Early Music Festival. As for Jeff Beck: there is a hi-ho silver lining there too. The legendary Wallington guitarist and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, now 75, has re-arranged his gig for April 22 2021.

Jonathan Williams’s stained-glass artwork for our Corona crisis times 

Clap for Carers

STAND by your doors, bang a gong, at 8pm every Thursday, no excuses. Theatre-goers, concert-goers, save your hand-clapping for our NHS doctors, hospital staff, carers, volunteers and key workers.

If one work of art encapsulates a city in gratitude, and in prayer, step forward Jonathan Williams’s stained glass window of York Minster and York Hospital in rainbow union.

Lips/ink: A pensive Simon Armitage, Yorkshireman of words, both spoken and written

And what about…

NEW albums by Badly Drawn Boy, The 1975 and The Dears. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s new series of interviews on BBC Sounds and his appearance and musical choices on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Channel 4’s Gogglebox for weekly political insight. Going to a garden centre, where plant salvation awaits.


Jane Poulton travels from stardust to stardust for digital Scarborough gallery

Curl, by Jane Poulton, from her From Stardust To Stardust gallery

WELCOME to From Stardust To Stardust, a new Instagram gallery by artist Jane Poulton for Scarborough Museums Trust’s innovative series of digital commissions.

Poulton’s seven photographic and text-based images “consider how personal objects can bring to mind moments of deep emotion from our own private histories”.

One photographic artwork will be released each day on the social media platform @scarboroughmuseums for seven days from Tuesday, May 26. The gallery subsequently will be available on the website scarboroughmuseumstrust.com

The trust wants From Stardust To Stardust to be accessible to everyone, so the gallery will include image descriptions and audio files for those who might find them helpful. 

Poulton says: “During exploratory work for this project, I used cherished objects of my own to suggest similarities between museum collections and objects we hold dear ourselves.

Gryphaea, by Jane Poulton, from the From Stardust To Stardust series of seven images for Scarborough Museums Trust

“For example, a gryphaea fossil I found on my local beach gave me – the moment I held it in my hand – a flash of insight into the theory that every living thing on our planet comes from, and returns to, stardust. That brought me great comfort.”

“From stardust to stardust” was the phrase Poulton used to describe that experience. “It’s now the title for this project, which reflects on moments of personal uncertainty, fear or loss – my own and other people’s – through small objects that recall those times,” she says. 

“Though charms or mementos such as these have no measurable influence on the course of events, their power lies in what, or who, they represent.”

From Stardust To Stardust forms part of a series of digital commissions from Scarborough Museums Trust in response to the Corona crisis. The trust has asked Poulton, Kirsty Harris, Lucy Carruthers, Estabrak, Wanja Kimani, Jade Montserrat and Feral Practice to create digital artworks to be released online across social media platforms over the next four months. 

Originally trained in textiles, Poulton is a visual artist and writer who creates “socially engaged participatory projects that create a long-term impact and lasting legacy”. She has worked on many projects with members of the public, not least distinctly identified groups, particularly within community learning settings, where she aims to build confidence and give a voice to those whose views otherwise might not be heard.

Only One Question for…York portrait artist Sue Clayton on the art of painting faces

The eyes have it: Sue Clayton’s new portrait of Rotherham Covid-19 ward nurse Rachel Beal for #portraitsfornhsheroes

If eyes are “the window to the soul”, does that make them the most difficult facial feature to paint?

“FOR me, eyes are not the hardest things to paint but as a general rule – unlike many other portrait artists – I always paint the eyes last.

“To me they are the cherry on the cake and if I painted them first I wouldn’t give the rest of the face the attention it needs. 

“I can get very excited about skin/flesh, the colours there and how everything around a person reflects and changes the tone. Fascinating stuff…well, to me anyway!

“Arguably, I would say an open-mouth smile is the hardest part to paint: very hard to get natural looking.”

Sue Clayton has painted Rotherham Covid-19 ward nurse Rachel Beal for the #portraitsfornhsheroes project, from photographs sent by Rachel’s husband, Greg.

“One image particularly drew my attention: her smile beaming and her hands held up in a heart shape,” says Sue.

After York Heroes, Sue Clayton paints Covid ward nurse Rachel for NHS Heroes portrait as the heart and the art come together

“Vibrant, young, positive”: The qualities radiating from Rotherham Covid-19 ward nurse Rachel Beal in a photograph that inspired Sue Clayton to paint her for the #portraitsfornhsheroes” national project

YORK Heroes artist Sue Clayton is participating in the nationwide #portraitsfornhsheroes initiative.

Her subject is Rachel Beal, a “vibrant, young, positive” nurse in charge of a Covid-19 ward in Rotherham, who Sue has never met but was struck by one photograph of her in particular.

“The initiative was created in early April by Tom Croft, an Oxford artist who was on the 2018 Sky Portrait Artist series,” says Sue, from Wigginton, York.

“The idea was to celebrate our NHS heroes in portraits, to which he invited artists to participate. On our social media sites we posted a green canvas to say ‘I’m offering a free portrait to the first NHS key worker to contact me’, and the finished portrait is then posted to the ‘model’ as a thank-you.”

Sue’s offer received an immediate response. “I was delighted that within two minutes I had a request from a chap who wanted me to paint his wife, who’s a nurse in charge of a Covid-19 ward in Rotherham,” she recalls.

“The photos sent over showed Rachel as a vibrant, young, positive nurse. One image particularly drew my attention: her smile beaming as she held her hands up in a heart shape.”

Sue felt a spontaneous bond. “The first thing that struck me about Rachel was…this is the gal I would want by my bedside in ICU. She appeared to have a cheerful glint in her eyes and a smile to give hope.

Sue Clayton with her York Heroes portrait of Sainbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair, as featured in the first episode of Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4

“I felt a connection as two Yorkshire lasses whose glass is always half full. I also loved the composition, a wonderful triangulation. Finally, I loved her nose ring and tattoos set against a crisp uniform with the traditional silver filigree belt clasp.”

Sue’s response was to produce an expressive portrait, joyous even. “Perhaps strange considering these strange, sad times, when many fantastic portraits have been created showing masked nurses, fatigue and sadness etched in their eyes – really poignant and emotional to the viewer. 

“But, conversely, I wanted to show a time that has also shown the strength of human kindness and that hope still shines through, and here was a girl from Rotherham to prove it!

“My main focus obviously would be Rachel but I wanted her to be surrounded by free, bright, colourful brushstrokes symbolising her energy, vitality and hope.”

By necessity, Sue’s working practice differed from her York Heroes portraits of pantomime dame Berwick Kaler; motivational speaker, charity fundraiser, author and Huge frontman Ian Donaghy; “unsung hero” Andrew Fair, stalwart Sainbury’s trolley attendant at Monks Cross; York Against Cancer co-founder Steve Leveson; Nuzzlets animal charity driving force Mary Chapman and the late police constable Suzanne Asquith, who was awarded the Gold award for Inspiration at the North Yorkshire Police Annual Awards.

Unlike the 2018 series, there were to be no sittings this time, no voice, no chance to see facial expressions in motion “I worked solely from my response to Rachel’s photo without knowing anything about her, but the story that she sent me after seeing the painting assured me that I had captured her character,” says Sue.

“I painted purely from instinct, which was an interesting challenge for me and a new one. Usually, I will have met and chatted to a sitter and as a norm I find this important. 

York artist Sue Clayton with her son James, whose portrait to mark his 18th birthday features in her Downright Marvellous…At Large! series of 12 Down Syndrome studies

“I can build up a ‘feeling’ about someone, even down to what colour I feel portrays them. I will watch for quirks, their gestures, how someone talks: are they animated and excitable or quiet and reserved?

“These things I have in my mind and pre-form how I paint someone. In the case of a posthumous portrait, the loved one commissioning it will tell me about a person, what they were like, and it’s sometimes their response and feeling to their loved ones that come through when I paint.” 

For Rachel’s portrait, Sue decided to “just go with the flow and see how it developed”. “For instance, as I began the portrait, the background was plain aqua colour but, as I progressed, I knew vibrant colours needed to be there to suggest Rachel,” she says.

“She felt to me to be a buzzy, vital character. The bold, spark-like brushstrokes seem to come of their own accord, creating a dazzled aura and perhaps subconsciously giving a nod to the rainbow we’ve come to symbolise our NHS at this time.”

On receiving her portrait, Rachel sent a message to Sue to say: “This is so lovely! Thank you so much! It’s more than amazing!

“I’m a wife, mum and a nurse. I love Disney and creating a colourful, happy, healthy, fair world. I am passionate about helping people feel comfortable and empowered about their care and love working with patients to help them manage and maintain their overall health and well-being.”

Rachel said she was a firm believer in always having hope: “During these terrifying, unprecedented times, I find hope in the smallest of human gestures, which gives me the strength to keep smiling and caring and sharing positivity.

James and Lily – Sibling Love, by Sue Clayton, from her Downright Marvellous…At Large! series of Down Syndrome portraits

“I believe we will have our Victory over Covid and that our Victory will be beautiful! The NHS is something I cherish, I give my heart and soul to it. As staff we are family and I am extremely proud to be a part of that.”

Although Sue does not envisage meeting Rachel once circumstances allow, she says: “A lovely connection has been made with both her and Greg, Rachel’s husband, via social media. I think the ‘call and response’ nature of the initiative is great.”

NHS Heroes is a term often heard since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, hospital staff putting their life at risk for the good of others, even drawing comparison with the young soldiers sent into the trenches in the First World War. “We as a nation will be forever indebted to our NHS workers,” says Sue.

“I will be forever saddened and shocked that we asked them to go into a situation without adequate protection and that as a result people have died, saving others. How many other professions would find this acceptable, to know this and still go to work potentially risking their lives?”

First York Heroes, now NHS Heroes, what makes a hero for Sue? “Interesting question. I remember when I approached one of the ‘York Heroes’ to ask to create their portrait, they took some persuading.

“They did not consider themselves a hero, although all the nominations that came for them begged to differ!” she says.

Sue Clayton’s home work in lockdown: Painting a Chinese heron/crane on cupboard doors

“One of my final emails to persuade them was to just copy the definition of ‘hero’: ‘a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’.”

Adapting to life in lockdown, Sue is “grateful to be home, safe with my two children, in acknowledgement that many are unable to be so”. “I’m missing my partner terribly as, due to vulnerable health in both our households, we have to be cautious,” she says.

“From an art point of view, the urge to paint left me temporarily, which frightened me. However, home decorating began instead and my creativity was encouraged this way, from ripping up the stairs carpet and painting the stairs in rainbow colours to remember this period, through to painting a cupboard with a Chinese heron/crane.

“There’s no real reason for the choice of a Chinese heron/crane, I just thought it might add interest to the cupboard, and as usual I went off piste and used black Sharpie pen to scribble in blossom…I liked the effect though!

“I’ve been through a real ‘make do and mend’ episode at home, revamping without cost: the fireplace has been made over too, using mountcard off-cuts and shed paint…as you do!”

“I knew straightaway I should send in the image of Andrew, one of the York Heroes,” says Sue, whose portrait of Andrew Fair featured on Grayson’s Art Club.

The NHS portrait project gave Sue the jump start she needed to paint again. “I tend to paint in the early hours now as the house is peaceful and as a mum I’m off duty!” she says.

This week Sue has conducted her first art workshop via the Zoom video app. “It worked OK  thankfully: such a huge relief to know I can deliver art sessions and still have some connection with people. I’ve so missed it,” she says.

“I’ll start two new weekly sessions in June, one purely portraits and the other, Clayton’s Art Club. If it’s good enough for Grayson Perry, it’ll do for me.”

While on the subject of Grayson’s Arts Club, Sue has played her part in Perry’s Monday night series in lockdown on Channel 4.

“My portrait of Sainsbury’s trolley attendant Andrew Fair appeared on the first episode. It was an absolute shock to me, but a bittersweet moment too, as I missed the original showing due to shocking news that a friend was unconscious and on life support fighting Covid,” she says.

“I had been making calls to friends to update them on the sad news and had taken a bath to just ‘be’ and reflect as the news had shocked me so. But my phone kept pinging and a friend phoned to say ‘Sue…I’ve just seen you on TV!’. 

“Grayson’s Art Club will introduce many to creating, both its power and how stimulating it can be,” says Sue Clayton in praise of Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 series

“So, the first time it was aired, I was in the bath, but I’m delighted to say my friend recovered and is now home…so it will always be a poignant moment for me.”

Grayson’s Art Club had asked for submissions of art for the show, accompanied by a video clip “telling him who you were and why you were submitting your painting”. “The first week was ‘portraits’ and I knew straightaway I should send in the image of Andrew, one of the York Heroes,” says Sue.

“As he works at Sainsbury’s, I felt it was an important nod to other key workers during this time but also because I love Andrew; he is such an amazingly, cheerful soul who loves his job. Getting to know him through the project was a happy time. 

“He had just turned 60 and he’s now shielding with his mother and I know he would be so proud to see his portrait on TV. 

“It was one of my most joyful moments painting Andrew. The delight and pride he had at being painted was so touching. He’s a prolific letter writer and has written to The Queen, Prince William and the chief exec of Sainsbury’s, to name but a few, to tell them he was selected as a Hero of York. He’s a very sweet, endearing man.” 

Sue Clayton’s staircase: Painted in lockdown in rainbow colours to show her appreciation of NHS staff and key workers

Sue is delighted by the impact of Grayson’s Art Club. “I think Grayson’s show will introduce many to creating, both its power and how stimulating it can be. It’s also a positive, uplifting show,” she says.

“I’ve loved seeing other artists appear too, both celebrity and world-renowned artists. So great to see Maggi Hambling on there, I love her. The exhibition at the end will be interesting too, a testament to this time…a time capsule, a snapshot of creations.   

“It’s interesting that as more cuts are made to the arts sectors, we are so lost without it. Where would we be now, in this period, without our music, the arts and museums’ online tours, the live theatre show streaming, movies, Netflix?”

Sue’s Downright Marvellous…At Large! exhibition at Pocklington Art Centre had to close early after the Coronavirus shutdown in March. “I was showing 12 new portraits in celebration of Down Syndrome, in part to mark my son James, who has Down Syndrome, turning 18 this year, this Friday in fact,” she says.

“I’m pleased to say that the exhibition will be shown at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford from November, then York Hospital in February 2021.”

David, by Sue Clayton, one of her portraits in the Downright Marvellous…At Large series

Coming next is Sue’s Double Portraits project, placing two contrasting portraits next to each other. “It’s still in its very early stages but the first portrait has begun,” she says.

“They will all be large and at least a metre. I want to challenge the viewer. For example, a large, colourful, brash, full in-your-face portrait of a man with facial paralysis will be shown against a sombre painted, full nude study of a confident man comfortable in his own skin. Do we at first glance acknowledge that they are the same person?

“Or a man in his prime, top of his game, delivering lectures to hundreds, assured, knowledgeable, performing…set against a desperate, sad portrait image of a ‘black treacle’ time – his words – when depression hits him. A monochromatic study, possibly painted in tar.

“As usual, I have nowhere to show these yet, nor thought to try and find funding, but it’s something I need to do. The ignition has been lit!” 

Did you know?

Two more York artists are taking part in the #portraitsfornhsheroes project: Lucie Wake and Karen Winship.

Could this be earliest photo of mysterious Scarborough landmark Hairy Bob’s Cave?

Hairy Bob’s Cave, behind the tank, in Marine Drive, Scarborough in 1919

WHAT may be the earliest photo in existence of the mysterious Scarborough landmark of Hairy Bob’s Cave has been spotted by an eagle-eyed Twitter follower.

The huge boulder, carved with a door and windows, stands on the resort’s Marine Drive in the shadow of the headland topped by Scarborough Castle.

The origins of this object of fascination for locals and visitors alike are uncertain,  but as part of Scarborough Museums Trust’s response to the Coronavirus-enforced shutdown, collections manager Jim Middleton is posting daily themed images from the trust’s collection of lantern slides, glass plate negatives, photographs and postcards on Twitter. 

When Jim tweeted a photograph of a First World War tank among a set of images on the theme of war and defence, Scarborough musician Anthony Springall was quick to make contact to point out that Hairy Bob’s Cave was in the background, suggesting it could be the earliest image of this curio.

Hairy Bob’s Cave, the mysterious Scarborough landmark, in May 2020. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Jim says: “No-one is really sure who created Hairy Bob’s Cave, or why, but the most plausible story is that it was made by the men who built the Marine Drive in the early 1900s; its location is exactly where the goods yard for the build was.”

Now he has declared a challenge: “We’d love to hear from anyone who thinks they might have an earlier image of it,” he says.

The tank was presented to Scarborough on July 18 1919 by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of York on behalf of the Treasury as a token of thanks for all the money raised by the town during the war.

“According to a contemporary article in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, by three special efforts Scarborough had raised over £300,000 and had invested war loans and bonds well over a million pounds, which was an enormous amount at the time,” says Jim.

The goods yard for the Marine Drive construction in Scarborough, early 20th century

He added that the first intention had been to display the tank in the Castle grounds, but it was thought the roads up to the castle might not be sufficiently stable for the heavy load.

“What became of it, we don’t know,” he says. “But exposure to sea spray and heavy storms would suggest that it probably rusted in a relatively short time.”

Magic lanterns were early image projectors that used a light source to magnify and project images on glass for both education and entertainment purposes, particularly during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Scarborough Collections contain more than 7,000 such slides and glass plates, in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust, which runs the Rotunda Museum, Scarborough Art Gallery and Woodend.

You can see the images that Jim is posting daily by following @SMT_Collections on Twitter. To view existing posts, search #lockdownlanternslides.

Nothing happening in these Lockdown limbo days. Everything off. Here are 10 Things To Do on the home front, courtesy of The Press, York. LIST No. 5

Nothing happening full stop. Now, with time on your frequently washed hands, home is where the art is and plenty else besides

Exit 10 Things To See Next Week in York and beyond for the unforeseeable future in Lockdown hibernation. Enter home entertainment, wherever you may be, whether together or in self-isolation, in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. From behind his closed door, CHARLES HUTCHINSON makes these suggestions.

Street protest: The Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes cast on the march from York Minster Plaza to York Theatre Royal in 2017. Picture: Anthony Robling

Streaming of Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes, York Theatre Royal Collective Arts programme

YORK Theatre Royal is streaming the 2017 community play Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes for free on its YouTube channel until May 31.

Co-produced with Pilot Theatre, this outdoor and indoor production was performed by a community cast of 150 and a choir of 80, taking the form of a  protest play that recalled how women in York ran safe houses, organised meetings, smashed windows and fire-bombed pillar boxes as part of the early 20th century Suffragette movement.

“Now the stage is dark and the streets are empty, but looking back to the way in which that show brought people together, inspiring them in so many ways, is a wonderful reminder of the power of theatre and community,” says playwright Bridget Foreman.

Whispers From The Museum: the new mystery adventure from Scarborough Museums Trust

Whispers From The Museum, online mystery adventures for children

ADVENTUROUS youngsters can solve a new online mystery, Whispers From The Museum, set at Scarborough Art Gallery and Rotunda Museum, from May 12. The buildings may be closed under the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions but strange messages have been appearing inside. Who or what is making them and what are they trying to tell us?

For six weeks, young people – and their grown-ups – can uncover stories about assorted Scarborough Museums Trust objects by completing online missions and challenges from their own home, set by Scarborough artist Kirsty Harris.

The stream team: Your Place Comedy double bill Simon Brodkin and Maisie Adam, performing from their living room to yours

Your Place Comedy, streamed from their living rooms to yours

AT the initiation of Selby Town Hall arts centre manager Chris Jones, here comes gig two of Your Place Comedy, a Sunday night when comedians stream a live show via YouTube and Twitch from their living room into yours from 8pm. There is no charge, but you can make donations to be split between the ten small, independent northern venues that have come together for this Lockdown fundraising scheme.

After Hull humorist Lucy Beaumont and a pyjama-clad Mark Watson in the inaugural online gig, this weekend’s stream team will be Theresa May’s Tory conference P45 prankster Simon Brodkin and Harrogate’s Maisie Adam, as seen from home previously on last Friday’s Have I Got News For You.

Grayson Perry with his teddy bear Alan Measles on a visit to York in May 2014 to open the Meet The Museums Bears event

Inspired by Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4…

IF you have enjoyed Grayson Perry’s convivial call to art, Grayson’s Art Club, on Channel 4 on Monday nights, with portraits and animals as the two subjects so far, seek out the “Ultimate Artists’ Activity Pack”.

This downloadable artist activity pack is suitable for children and adults alike, with Grayson among the contributing artists. So too are Ampleforth College alumnus Antony Gormley, Mark Wallinger, Michael Landy, Gillian Wearing and Jeremy Deller.

The Art Is Where The Home Is pack is the creation of Sandy Shaw, director of the Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, who says the activities should be fun, done on A4 paper and ideally shared.

Drag diva Velma Celli’s poster for Large & Lit In Lockdown, her next online show

What next for Velma Celli, York’s drag diva?

AFTER last weekend’s concert streamed from a Bishopthorpe kitchen in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice, York’s international drag diva Velma Celli has confirmed another such online extravaganza.

Large & Lit In Lockdown will be large and live at 8pm on May 16. “All you need to do is get your tickets from the link below and a live link will arrive in your email inbox on the day of the show.

“Click on it at show time and BOOM! There she is,” says Velma, the spectacular singing creation of Ian Stroughair. Tap in: https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/velma-celli-large-secret-york-venue-tickets/10581785.

Activity of the week: Rearranging your bookshelves

THANKS to Zoom and all manner of online visual services, placing yourself in front of your bookshelves is becoming the new normal, as tracked by the Bookcase Credibility Twitter feed, @BCredibility.

You may not go as far as J K Rowling, who re-arranged her books in colour sequences, but this is the chance to both gut your book collection and to find new ways to categorise those shelves, more imaginatively than merely alphabetically. This is spring cleaning with a new purpose.

Romesh Ranganathan: Rearranged York Barbican date

Still keep trying to find good news

POCKLINGTON’S Platform Festival in July, off. More York Races meetings, a non-runner. Deadpan comedian Romesh Ranganathan on Sunday at York Barbican, off; Whitby Fish & Ships Festival next weekend; the chips are down, alas. The list of cancellations grows like the wisteria adorning York’s houses this month, but you should keep visiting websites for updates.

Platform Festival? Negotiations are underway to move as many acts as possible to next summer. Romesh? His show, The Cynics Mixtape, is in the 2021 diary for May 15, still without an apostrophe in its title. Fish & Ships?  Sailing into harbour next May. York Races? Further updates awaited.

Woodland bluebells , Spring 2020

Venturing outdoors…

…FOR your daily exercise, be that a run, a cycle ride or a stroll near home, in a changing environment. If your route allows, check out the bluebells, now a glorious woodland haze, and the rhododendrons, bursting through too. In Rowntree Park, the ducklings are taking to the water, no need for armbands. Thank you, nature and the natural world, for keeping up our spirits.

Clap for Carers

STAND by your doors at 8pm every Thursday, no excuses. Theatre-goers, concert-goers, save your hand-clapping for our NHS doctors, hospital staff, carers, volunteers and key workers. How moving, too, to see familiar buildings bathed in blue light: a glowing tribute growing by the week.

Louis Theroux: New BBC radio series of interviews in lockdown

And what about…

NEW albums by The Strokes (the uncannily titled The New Abnormal); Lucinda Williams, Car Seat Headrest and Damien Jurado. Michael Henderson’s new state-of-the-nation book That Will Be England Gone, The Last Summer Of Cricket. The TV adaptation of Normal People, Sally Rooney’s story of complicated Millennial teenage love, directed by Room filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson on BBC Three, One and iPlayer. Louis Theroux’s lockdown interview series, Grounded, on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds. Parsnips, however you cook them.

Copyright of The Press, York

Spot the difference as Tom Wood adds to online crow show at Lotte Inch Gallery

Water & Seeds, 2020, acrylic and collage, by Tom Wood

LOTTE Inch Gallery’s first online-only exhibition, Tom Wood’s The Abstract Crow, is becoming even more abstract.

“The exhibition catalogue is still available to view online, but some of the more eagle-eyed browsers among you will notice a few changes,” says Lotte Inch, owner of the gallery at Fourteen Bootham, York.

“In a true insight into the daily goings-on of the artist’s studio, Tom has revisited three of the works that form part of this exhibition.”

Explaining his decision, Tom says: “Sometimes I feel compelled to revise things. It’s dangerous having things at home. Starts off a portrait…ends up a bunch of flowers! Still, it will give future conservators something to puzzle over.”

Drawing A Dahlia, by Tom Wood

Lotte rejoins: “So, here’s the perfect excuse to revisit Tom’s exhibition once more and to see if you can spot the changes. If you have any questions about any of these works or others in the show, please feel to drop us a line at lotte@lotteinch.co.uk.

“We’re always more than happy to deliver works for you to look at them if you’re based within the York area.”

Running from April 17 to May 16, Wood’s solo show pays homage to this Yorkshire artist’s love for the natural world, while displaying his imaginative and allusive abstract approach to painting.

Since graduating from Sheffield School of Art in 1978, Wood has exhibited his work worldwide. For example, his celebrated portraits of Professor Lord Robert Winston and Leeds playwright Alan Bennett, both commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, London, have been shown at the Australian National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

An abstract crow from Tom Wood’s The Abstract Crow online show at Lotte Inch Gallery

Wood has held solo shows at the Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, and Schloss Cappenberg, Kreiss Unna, Germany. Among his commissions are portraits for the National Trust, Warwick University and the Harewood Trust, for whom his large double portrait of the late 7th Earl and Countess of Harewood is on permanent display at Harewood House, near Leeds.

“We look forward to re-opening soon but, in the meantime, we continue to encourage you to browse online,” says Lotte. “Alongside Tom’s newly revised works, we also have a selection of new ceramic works and jewellery and will keep adding new items to our online shop, so do check back with us from time to time.

“Do note that if you live in the York area, we’re pleased to be able to offer a free and safe delivery service. Just select ‘Collect In Store’ and we’ll be in touch to arrange delivery of your items.”

Why are strange messages appearing in lockdown at Scarborough museums? You can provide the answers. Here’s how…

Whispers From The Museum: The online mystery for children that can be solved from May 12

ADVENTUROUS youngsters can help to solve a new online mystery, Whispers From The Museum, set at Scarborough Art Gallery and Rotunda Museum, from May 12.

The gallery and distinctive circular museum are closed under the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. Nevertheless, strange messages have been appearing inside, but who or what is making them and what are they trying to tell us?

For six weeks from next Tuesday, young people – and their grown-ups – can uncover stories about assorted Scarborough Museums Trust objects by completing online missions and challenges from their own home. 

Created by Scarborough artist Kirsty Harris, Whispers From The Museum will feature a fictional young girl called George whose older brother, Sam, works at the gallery and museum.

Kirsty Harris: Artist, designer, maker and now woman of mystery

“George can’t visit Sam: like everyone else, she’s staying home,” says Kirsty. “But Sam still sends her videos and photos of what he’s been up to. Recently some very strange things have been appearing overnight in the museum.

“To find out what’s been going on, participants are invited to take part in exciting weekly missions. They can open the missions on their screen or print them if they prefer.”

Each mission will include simple creative projects, such as art or writing, and when finished can be shared on social media. To access each new mission, those taking part will need to answer a simple question or solve a puzzle.

Kirsty says: “Objects and paintings are sitting quietly within the walls of the museum. With no visitors to look at them and think about why they’re so special, their meaning may begin to fade. But they’re still there, full of stories and meaning and purpose. They can reach out to us, asking us to keep their stories alive.

The Tree Of Lost Things: An earlier project by Kirsty Harris

“In a few short weeks, the world we know has become unrecognisable in so many ways. Hundreds of thousands of children are facing months of staying at home, with little real-life contact with the outside world and the inspiration it brings. It’s a lonely prospect, and one that may leave many wondering about their place in the world.”

Scarborough Museums Trust’s learning manager, Christine Rostron, says: “We’re so pleased to be working with artist Kirsty Harris, who has created a brilliant story using our buildings and collections as inspiration.

“This adventure will help children to reach out to and connect with the world beyond their front doors, into a world full of amazing objects and stories that will be waiting for them to explore physically again in the hopefully not-too-distant future.

“To take part, families will need to be able to access the internet, so it’s probably best if an adult helps! Families will be encouraged to keep the things they make until the end of the project.”

Kirsty Harris’s Shhh, Did You Hear That? at Sutton House, near York. Copyright: National Trust

Whispers From The Museum is aimed primarily at children aged seven to 11, although younger and older children will enjoy the challenges too. Free to take part in, the first mission launches on Tuesday, May 12 at scarboroughmuseumstrust.com.

Mystery adventure creator Kirsty Harris is an artist, designer and maker who specialises in installation and performative works. “I make immersive worlds and experiences in found environments, landscapes and theatres,” she says. “I make work for babies aged six months and all the ages that come after.” 

Kirsty has led design-based community projects for The Old Vic, the National Theatre, the National Trust, the V&A, Kensington Palace and Manchester Jewish Museum. 

Kirsty Harris’s Almost Always Muddy, presented by Likely Story Theatre. Picture: Rachel Otterway

She has collaborated with or been commissioned by Wildworks, Punchdrunk, The Young Vic, Coney, Likely Story Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre, Southbank Centre, The Discover Centre, London Symphony Orchestra, National Theatre Wales and the National Trust.

Whispers From The Museum is the first of a series of new digital commissions from Scarborough Museums Trust as part of its response to the Coronavirus crisis. The trust has asked Lucy Carruthers, Estabrak, Wanja Kimani, Jane Poulton, Jade Montserrat and Feral Practiceas well as Kirsty Harris, to create digital artworks for release online across assorted social media platforms over the next four months.

These are the platforms:

Website: scarboroughmuseumstrust.com

YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8-gck0CM7gVFcsZHMAIcDw

Twitter: @SMTrust

Instagram: @scarboroughmuseums

Facebook: @scarboroughmuseums