October Residency: Russell Morris and Bronwyn Thomas

October Residency: Russell Morris and Bronwyn Thomas
  • Friday 1st November -

October Residency: Russell Morris and Bronwyn Thomas

Bleddfa's second week of artists' residency in October was a Beethoven themed week, with Russell Morris and Bronwyn Thomas taking up the baton from Lois Hopwood.  This week it seems to be the fabric of the building itself, including the white simplicity of the old school room, which has provided the narrative and character to steer the artists through a week of expansive drawing.

Bringing Beethoven to Bleddfa (14th - 20th Oct).

Russell Morris

There are times when need and opportunity are perfectly matched and the unexpected chance to take up a short residency at Bleddfa proved to be just that.

Since late summer I'd become interested in the possibility of contributing a visual component to the forthcoming Clun Valley Music Festival in 2020 which this year will focus on the music of Beethoven. I'd begun to discuss the best way to move this forward with fellow artist Bronwyn Thomas when the Residency slot at Bleddfa became vacant; it seemed just the right place to make a start on what might be achieved.

Day 1: 14th October

As the artist Lois Hopwood collected her works and handed over tenure of the residency she left us with good parting advice: “let the building have its say”. There's no doubting that the unique atmosphere of Bleddfa plays a part in all that takes place there, but how it gets in the mix seems hard to say. We had tea, music, plenty of art kit, lots of space to spread and no distractions. Exchanging our first thoughts on the project brought two aspects clearly to light, a need for structure and free improvisation.

Lacking a visual subject to refer to I was somewhat at a loss as to how to begin. The graphic nature of musical notation suggested the first tentative steps I might make. Just when it was needed the building did indeed come forward with a way to begin.

The bare wooden floor at my feet offered me the ready-made but up-scaled lines of a musical stave.

Once overlaid with paper, I took direct rubbings with graphite, transferring both line and texture from the floorboards of the building. This direct form of drawing has its own truth, and in a straightforward way I'd made a record of place; I now needed a response to the flow of the music that was played as we both worked.

Day 2: 15th October

(Tying the drawings more closely to the music)

More rubbings on long scrolls of paper, letting the pauses and flurries of notes from the quartets suggest pressure, emphatic mark or simply blank space. Now with a good set of “floor staves” to work on it seemed the right moment to attempt a visual improvisation in response to the fluid sound of the music. I had in mind an alternative score, a kind of visual counterpoint composed of gestural marks, hinting at musical notation. In need of a contrast to the grey graphite marks of the rubbing, I chose to use black acrylic paint, just thinned enough, to drip from the brush across the first rubbings I'd made.

Allowing for marks to splatter and drip, I soon learnt that what happens, just happens and is best left uncorrected.

Day 3: 16th October

Sadly due to previous commitments it is my last day. I leave the rest of the week to Bronwyn who has been forging ahead. It has been great working in tandem, bouncing ideas, exchanging viewpoints and asking for a critical eye as our workshop progressed.

I have some idea of a work process now and reviewing yesterday’s progress realise the positive returns from having let chance play a part. The rubbings that I've made have captured some of the character of the building in the texture of wood grain, old flattened nails, scuffs, pits and windblown leaves from the door; the emphatic marks of the graphite suggest sound-waves or the tremors of a musical seismograph.  The method I've used has pulled in more visual detail and content than I had credited.

May as well continue with risk, now all the paint has finally dried: so following the lines of my “floor-staves” I carefully cut them into long single lengths, setting them free. Placing them on the walls, each length a narrow run of texture and long looping lines does finally seem to match the mark to the music. Encouraged, as we head to the end of the day, I try for one last large work, getting lost in the music and let the graphite and paint do their job.

Being currently without a studio the luxury of space and time to work freely that Bleddfa has offered has been invaluable, the project in mind has begun to take shape revealing a new method to work and a fresh creative direction: which is after all the very stuff of which Bleddfa is made.

Bronwyn Thomas

Day 1
The simplicity of the room at Bleddfa made it easier to discuss finding abstract equivalent while listening to some early Beethoven. I felt the need to make a transition from the way I usually work to letting the music inform the marks I was making. Also, trying to work with the music felt very relaxing.

Day 2

Today I felt as if by isolating the notes it would increase their impact, concentrating on their individual shapes and energy.

Day 3

Accentuated the freedom of the individual notes against a background of a stave. I have frequently used this combination of regular lines with the freedom of various shapes, and I particularly like the energy created between the two.

Day 4
Today I worked on building up the colour on the textured background to the stave, helped by the glorious colour released by the intermittent sun on the valley outside Bleddfa.

Day 5

I explored a different route today by introducing mono-printing for the notes with a considerable reduction on the background.  It was very useful to see the variations of the different pieces of work on the gallery’s simple white walls.

This week at Bleddfa has provided me with plenty of options to follow in the future.

For details about the Clun Valley Music Festival go to clunvalleymusic.co.uk