The Blackwater Polytechnic began when Freddie Robins and I started converting a sixteenth century timber framed barn to live and work in. The barn is on the family blackcurrant farm in beautiful North Essex. There was a need to retrain ourselves and our team in order to be able to complete the project how we envisioned it, so the Polytechnic was born. The Polytechnic combines construction, farming, forestry, art, craft and collecting. These are the activities we have committed to by living in this place in this way. How we resolve the tensions between those disciplines and our lives is the material and project of the Polytechnic.
I am in a wonderful exhibition at the Sentinel Gallery in Wivenhoe. I was delighted to be asked to participate by Jane Lewis. It has some great work in it, most of which I was unfamiliar with. I love seeing new work. It is a beautifully hung show with delightful and intelligent juxtapositions, put together by Pru Green and Rosie Harman. There are some fascinating correspondences between abstract and figurative work which I really like. It runs until 25th September so do see if you can make it down.
Here’s me with my painting ‘Moon boy’, a James Faure Walker and a Clive Davis plate.
A cracking group with two of my paintings, two by Jane Lewis and one by James Faure Walker
A great corner with my painting ‘Apollo Garden’ on the left; Bridget Moore’s ‘Yellow Room’ and Caroline McAdam Clark’s ‘Promised Land’ and more ceramics by Clive Davis. Bridget’s work has a Sickert like use of dark but the lightness of touch of Bonnard. Caroline’s landscape uses intriguing and beguiling patterns combined with collage elements. Both are really lovely.
On the right here are Gertie Young’s wonderfully whimsical landscapes always with a dark shadow of looming evil lurking in the background. And on the left Wendy Jacob’s sand dune. The exhibition also features the work of Debbie Ayles whose work I couldn’t photograph very well but she is the featured artist at the Minories shop in Colchester at the moment.
In further Watercolour News I have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Watercolour Prize. Hurrah! The shortlisted works will be shown at the Mall Galleries, London from 19 – 24 September 2016, and will continue to tour to venues across the UK, including Parabola Arts centre, Cheltenham (24 – 29 October 2016) and Guildford House Gallery, Guildford (10 December 2016 – 28 January 2017). Below is my painting ‘Lily White Boys’ which made the cut. The title refers to the English folk song ‘Green Grow the Rushes – Ho’ which is obscure in meaning but vivid in imagery. I like to peer behind the curtain of the obvious. I like not knowing.
Mil Stricevic is arriving from Glasgow today to start our first residency in our completed Silo. He will be working with our Professor of Wood, Nicol Wilson, on a new Sonic Vista bench updated from the 2002 project Mil and I undertook in Barrow-in-Furness. Hopefully the prototype will be available for our Open Studio. It will then be pimped by Simon Emery at the Paintbox.
Balustrade made of sweet chestnut and cherry harvested by Alex Morton (@alex.gardenlore) and Mike Polom (@hugsparty), built by Nicol Wilson with David Howe.
Mil Stricevic in 2002 with the original Sonic Vista bench in Barrow-in-Furness
We are very excited to announce our line-up for the Open Studios. As is usual, it being our Open Studio, Freddie Robins and Ben Coode-Adams will be the lynch-pins, the mainstays, the eye of the storm, the still centre, the big end. We will have a larger selection of old work for sale at bargain bucket prices than ever as well as the new stuff. I feel I am becoming better and better at painting, so the new ones are really worth owning:-)
We are delighted to announce that renowned international artist Julie Arkell will be showing her work with us. Julie has spent the last forty years developing a practice based around papier maché. She has that commitment to craft in her medium and fluidity in ‘thinking through doing’ that we value most highly. She interweaves folk traditions with popular culture to create a unique, striking, sometimes sinister, personal mythology. Her work might be described as comfort ‘toys’ for a demented age. Twisted childhood memories combine with a delightful, inventive use of materials. Like many women artists her work scares the shit out of the male dominated art world.
That mythology permeates her whole life, her home, and her clothes. She is having a good clean out and will be bringing forty years worth of studio bits and bobs for sale. This is a rare, if not unique event, and Julie’s first showing in Essex for many years. So get the look!
‘May, Pixie, Stanley’ Julie Arkell
We are open 1st & 2nd October 2016 11am-6pm Feering Bury Farm Barn, Coggeshall Road, Feering, Colchester Essex CO5 9RB. You are welcome.
We’re excited to announce our Open Studio event is scheduled for 1st & 2nd October 2016 11am-6pm. We will hold our famous café run by kids (now the kids are a year older) with the cheapest cup of tea for miles around, £1 including a biscuit.
Our museum will be properly open this year.
More details later, including the line-up of artists. Quiver with anticipation.
Freddie Robins and I are very excited to announce that we are having a joint exhibition at the Sentinel Gallery in Wivenhoe running from 30th April to 30th May so including both Bank Holidays for which the gallery will be open. We are showing new work and many unseen gems all at very special prices!
There is a regular train to Wivenhoe from London Liverpool Street. Wivenhoe itself is a charming town with delightful coastal walks and good pubs. It is well worth a visit. The Sentinel Gallery is a great space owned and built by Pru Green. We’d love to see you.
some rocks & a hard place
An exhibition of art by Ben Coode-Adams and Freddie Robins at the Sentinel Gallery
Chapel Road, Wivenhoe, Essex, CO7 9DX
30th April-30th May: Wednesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm and Bank Holidays
01206 827490 www.thesentinelgallery.co.uk
some rocks & a hard place
Freddie Robins is a true artistic heavy weight, an authentic ‘badass’. She questions all your assumptions about wool, women, comfort and nurturing by undermining and exploding them in her art. But then the truth of our existence, as opposed to our rose-tinted hopes, is unmanageable, often unapproachable and always ominous. For Robins nestling up to truth is an artistic goal where art is the shadow of life.
Her new work involves the use of flints. These stones, geologically enigmatic, their formation a mystery, litter the farm where Robins lives. She collects the ones that look like witches’ gnarled fingers. The oscillation between cosy warm fluffy wool and flinty hard unyielding stone is surprising, uncomfortable and pregnant with secret power.
Robins lives in the area of Essex scourged by Mathew Hopkins the self-styled Witch-Finder General. He executed roughly 300 women for witchcraft in three short years . These severed witches’ fingers, cherty fragments of murdered women, retain their crystalline power multiplied by being restored to their hand sister form.
Dr. Catherine Dormor, who is an artist, Lecturer and Research Co-ordinator at Middlesex University, writes of Robins’ work:
Freddie Robins offers a challenge to the notion of knitting as a passive, benign activity.
Robins brings conformity to subversion, setting knitting not as an activity of safety and comfort-production, but rather as a series of actions and processes through which identity and subjectivity can be formed and expressed. Robins upsets notions of utilitarianism in favour of artistic expressionism, function, and form in favour of conceptual rigor. In so doing she rejects craft-art arguments as irrelevant and misplaced borderlines.
a hard place
Ben Coode-Adams is the hard man of watercolour. His paintings do not conform to the stereotype of old-fashioned amateurish en plein air landscapes. His paintings are rigorous and uncompromising even dangerous. Coode-Adams likes it when things are unexpected. The paints he uses are ground up gems stones that have unpredictable chemical reactions. On one level he is painting just to see what happens. His imagery bubbles up through the paint surface.
above: The ventriloquist and her shadow Watercolour on paper 2016
In Coode-Adams’ paintings small-time gods emerge from the warp and weft of a multidimensional universe. For him the act of painting is a spirit-journey where he blindly gropes towards a fully formed image that he can’t quite grasp. The image has to be painstakingly constructed of veils spun from the lower world.
George Ferrandi, Director of Wayfarers Gallery in Brooklyn New York writes of Coode-Adams’ work:
Ben Coode-Adams makes mystical watercolour paintings of spirit world / Sasquatch – like figures adorned with or comprised of tribal patterns that seep off of the characters and into the spaces around them. The figures are often defined by solid colours and patterns, but rarely by outline, leaving them ephemeral and weightless. It’s as if the landscape were passing through them while they were passing through it. They are edgeless – both with regards to the laws of physics and with regards to the limits of Ben’s inventive mark-making. These watery spirits co-exist with giant magical trees and small crying people – presenting boundless sorrow, but also unlimited joy. The resulting vibrant works on paper look beautiful. But they feel beautiful, too.
These painting come from a body of work made while Coode-Adams has been suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E). This disease meant he could not undertake any physical work but he has been able to paint. As his health has improved he has been bingeing on paint.
Freddie Robins studied at Middlesex Polytechnic and the Royal College. Ben Coode-Adams studied at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. Both artists exhibit internationally. Ben is from Essex. They moved to the family farm eight years ago where they built their own house and studio. They both share a deep love of Essex, a maligned and under appreciated county; which can’t escape being between a rock and a hard place.
In 2014 we went international because only in relation to others is the local local. We went to find fellow travellers and learn from them, people who work with extreme craft skill, poetic agility, and actual real in-your-face objects, artists not always very visible in the UK. We went Swedish at the amazing and inspiring University of Gothenburg Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk in Steneby, where hardcore skills are taught alongside Bauhausian design courses. It is the mother-lode of all the values we hold dear.
We went Lithuanian at the Vilniaus Dailės Akademija where Soviet era national identity is being re-crafted, where loving the local is a bulwark against the juggernaut neighbours. We went American, with Wayfarers and Theodore:Art in Brooklyn and Season in Seattle.
We developed a long term relationship with Brooklyn based performance artist George Ferrandi who works with performance, vulnerability, impermanence, fallibility and spectacle, often through experimental approaches to story-telling. Employing a unique humour and a deep sense of humanity, her work is filled with love. She has sent us a parcel of extraordinariness to show at #Sluice__ 2015 from Japan where she has been working for the last few months.
As director of the Brooklyn gallery Wayfarers George Ferrandi introduced me to Brent Owens with whom I exhibited at Wayfarers in 2014. It was a very happy pairing and so we decided to includes Brent’s work in our #Sluice __2015 presentation.
George describes ‘Brent Owens’ sculpture [as] ambitious and delicately clunky – appropriating the rough-hewn aesthetic of chain-sawed country bears or driftwood sculptures, but applying those sensibilities to less much predictable imagery – like ice cream cones, loaves of bread, submarine sandwiches or piles of hair.’ All I am saying is Zombie Toast…
In 2014 Freddie Robins was deeply embedded in the English Folk Song and Dance Society. We have taken this engagement as a spring board for our psycho-folk theme for our 2015 Sluice__ presentation which could be embodied in the paintings of Simon Collins whose mysterious allegories and parables chart his personal journey though love and history.
If you’re going to be rural you might as well get right down in the bosky mire with the faeries, sprites and spirits. We embrace the pink shiny glittery as well as the massive scary teeth, truly awesome power of death wielding elementals. It’s not nice in the woods.
Just to remind you we are open this Sunday 27th September 11am-5pm for more ‘Brocki’ fun and we would love to see you. Thank you to all the people who came last Sunday. It was real fun. And thank you to all our artists who have worked so hard to make the ‘Brocki’ so great. I’d love to sell the inflatable dinosaurs. They are a wonderful collection but are now outside our collecting remit.
Inflatable dinosaurs: various species
View in the gallery with my work, Freddie Robins, Dale Devereux Barker, &Sara Impey,
View of the barn with Dale Devereux Barker, Rebecca Weaver and Lucy Tiffney round the corner
Simon Collins’s painting ‘Mollie’ with a Dale Devereux Barker print. Amanda Emery’s Ford Falcon put together by Simon Emery
In 2012 just as the barn was approaching completion I began a conversation with the curator Sarah Schuster about how to show the products of those disciplines: construction, farming, forestry, art, craft and collecting, together. She was living in Zurich at the time and sent me this email from which I am quoting, introducing the ‘Brockenhaus’. In this Open Studio event we have finally approached the concept of the ‘Brocki’.
*‘Enter the Swiss wonder that is the Brockenhaus, or Brocki for short. Brockis are like massive permanent flea markets/charity shops/warehouses of junk/curiosity cabinets all rolled into one. Brockenhaus translates literally to ‘chunk house’. I like this. Chunks. Filled with chunks.
Brockis themselves are wonderful places to be. Most of them, it’s like stepping into a building sized pile of junk and good luck wading through for treasures, then you find a few and take them to the till and the woman behind it consults some incomprehensible pricing system, or just charges you whatever she feels like, which is never very much at all… So, what I’m thinking is a Brocki, but with all the crap weeded out. I love the idea of a museum, but hesitate on the use of the word museum as it implies a space where you look but don’t touch, and definitely don’t buy. Maybe the museum has a shop, or maybe it is feeling very cranky and thus de-accessioning its entire collection… Anyway, I see a sort of non – gallery. A place of treasures big and small, to be wandered through, wondered over, explored, and piece by piece bought and taken home. Something that might look jumbled at first but feels right. It has an underlying logic.’
Sarah Schuster 2012
We have finally managed to haul most of our collections out of storage and into display cases. In so doing we have de-accessioned a fair few objects that will be available to buy at the Open Studio. Our good friend Rebecca Weaver who is an antique dealer is going to bring some of her stuff to sell to add to the jumble.
As in the original ‘Brocki’ plan we have ART too. Simon Collins is a powerful documenter of his very personal pilgrimage in paint.
Simon Emery continues to wow us with shiny, glittery car parts.
Dale Devereux Barker is a polymath athlete of image-making based around print-making.
Sara Impey will be showing new insightful poems of, and in, stitch.
We have Justin Knopp, of Typoretum, one of the UK’s foremost letterpress artist, making prints on site and selling his work.
We have drinks supplied by Company: Movements, Deals and Drinks which is a long-term project by international artist group Myvillages which links North and South Essex through fruit picking. Their blackcurrant cordial is made with our blackcurrants.
We have a reprise of the hugely successful Lambros Café run by 11year olds. Freddie Robins won’t tell me what she is doing. There are also some paintings and objects made by me…
We are proud to be part of Colchester & Tendering Open Studios weekends
We had a visit from artist Rosa Farber (http://www.rosafarber.com) yesterday, who is doing great things to do with art and farming in Sussex. Talking to her reminded me of the things I really like about the Polytechnic which Benjamin Sutton’s questions crystallised for me back in October 2014. Her visit also reminded me how exciting it is working in a rural setting where psycho-geography, actual geography and art collide.
Don’t be intimidated by Blackwater Polytechnic‘s ominous name. The British artist collective and alternative art school has a very benevolent goal: To nurture and promote the work of artists and artisans based in Essex. To that end, the group will be showcasing members’ works at Brooklyn’s Theodore Art, along with Seattle’s Season gallery, as part of this week’s Exchange Rates expo in Bushwick. (For the record, the name “Blackwater” comes from the creek that runs through the group’s rural property, not the defense contractor now known as Academi.)
Ben Coode-Adams, the co-founder (with Freddie Robins) of Blackwater Polytechnic, took a break from installing to answer some questions about the exhibition — which will feature his own works alongside pieces by Robins, Paula Kane, Simon Emery, Justin Knopp, and Sara Impey — what appealed to the group about participating in Exchange Rates, and what distinguishes Essex artists from their counterparts in London.
* * *
Benjamin Sutton: For those who are unfamiliar with Blackwater Polytechnic, how would you sum up the project?
Ben Coode-Adams: The Polytechnic began when Freddie Robins and I started converting a barn to live in. It is on the family blackcurrant farm in beautiful North Essex. Construction remains at the heart of our work. During the building process it transpired that our approach was quite novel compared with how building contractors work. We used extreme craft skill combined with an ad hoc expediency, taking ourselves way beyond normal although we have come to think of this as normal. Artists who have gravitated to the Polytechnic share that rigorous high level of skill. There is an oscillation in their work between seeing the craft and the artists being so fluent in their medium that it becomes invisible.
BS: What will the group be presenting at Exchange Rates, and how did the expo’s themes of exchange, currency, and conversion influence your selections?
BCA: Laying the show out yesterday I was reminded that all our artists work in what might be considered sub-genres of artistic practice. So we have knitting, letterpress, embroidery, car body spraying, painting, and watercolor. We’ve always just butted this work together without really thinking too much about it. It seems natural to us. Each artist is well known in their own field and showing them in a fine art gallery context outside their usual worlds brings a whole new dimension to the work that I really like, something to do with texture and surface. It catalyzes an exciting set of contrasts like the best curry you have ever had. Showing with Season and Therodore Art seems to just compound that. There are great and profound conversations going on. It’s a rich, tasty show.
I feel like the three galleries coming together, indeed Exchange Rates as whole, is like a nomadic exotic caravanserai: You go hoping to come away with more than you brought and maybe some magic beans.
BS: Blackwater Polytechnic is predicated on highlighting the work of local artists around your home base in Essex; have you found this to be an increasingly common stance in the art world, or do you think that the “bland internationalism” you deplore on your website continues to dominate?
BCA: I think bland internationalism will continue to dominate. Don’t get me wrong, though. I like a good deal of that work. It’s often very good. It tends to be curator- and institution- and, dare I say, text-driven. I like artist-led. I like bottom-up. I like visual things rather than written. My feeling is that I want to go to a place and see something I wouldn’t see anywhere else. In music, different cities have different sounds. Why not in art? At least in the UK, I don’t think a love of the local is becoming common.
BS: In many ways it seems that Essex and Bushwick have similar histories as far as being longtime centers for artisans and artists; is that something that attracted you to participating in Exchange Rates?
BCA: I love the thing that Exchange Rates will do, which is create a cauldron for the magic to happen. There is definitely an affinity between our corner of Essex and Bushwick in terms of an interest in crafted, athletic art, which is absent from say London, where, to bluntly, unfairly, and wrongheadedly caricature, artists spend a lot of time lumpenly illustrating theory. Hey, that’s what it looks like from here! All your exhibitions are books! I’m teasing … a bit.
Blackwater Polytechnic will be showing at Theordore Art (56 Bogart Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) October 23–26 during Exchange Rates, of which Hyperallergic is a media sponsor.
I had a great time at Exchange Rates and gorged myself on some great and unexpected art. If you remember Blackwater Poly was showing with Theodore:Art run by Stephanie Theodore who was also hosting Robert Yoder from Season – the Seattle based gallery. Stephanie showed paintings by Sharon Butler and Andrew Seto and ceramics by Joyce Robins. Robert showed Seth Freidman’s sculptures and Michael Ottersen’s paintings. I thought it was a very strong show with great subtlety and variety. People told me they really liked it and we had many visitors all looking really hard at the work. Stephanie orchestrated a recipe that brought the best out of all the work, and enabled true collaboration over the hang which was some talent. The night we hung the work with Robert, Sharon, Stephanie, Faye Scott-Farrington and me, I could tell the show was going to be delicious. It had such good ingredients. The photos don’t really do the show justice. You just had to be there.
Michael Ottersen, Sara Impey, Joyce Robins, Andrew Seto, Simon Emery, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Ben Coode-Adams, Sara Impey, Justin Knopp, Joyce Robins, Sara Impey, Ben Coode-Adams, Andrew Seto, Sharon Butler with Seth Friedman’s sculpture on the plinths
Michael Ottersen, Andrew Seto, Freddie Robins, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Sara Impey, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins
Freddie Robins, Sara Impey, Michael Ottersen, Paula Kane, Sara Impey, Joyce Robins, Ben Coode-Adams, Joyce Robins with Seth Friedman on the plinths
Ben Coode-Adams, Joyce Robins, Andrew Seto, with Seth Friedman on the plinths