What the hell has been happening to Ben for the last year?

I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome back in June 2013 so even before our first exhibition here. In my case I was weak as a kitten and often in pain. I didn’t find a proper diagnosis until March 2014 and since then I have been recovering at a steady rate. I discovered how wonderful story tapes could be – I was too exhausted to read. I learnt how to meditate which is actually pretty cool. Aspects of alternative medicine I would never have countenanced I am now embracing. I spend a good deal of time balancing my chakras, indulge in lymphatic drainage and reflexology. I have no shame about watching films in the daytime. As I haven’t been able to do any physical work I have accepted the imperative to delegate, which was painful in itself.

I had a huge amount of help and support from my family as well as from some pretty effective and wise alternative health practitioners. I had very little support from the NHS and I urge NICE to rethink its guidelines for the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Six sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy over three months, given the condition lasts years and cannot be ‘cured’ by leaflets, is plainly ludicrous. For me at least my CFS was caused by a barrage of viruses, toxins and parasites hammering away at my broken immune system not a failure to ‘buck up’. That advice, regularly given, is the worst thing a sufferer of CFS can try to do. Inevitably active people who are suddenly rendered floppy as a soft toy do become depressed. So there have been dark days.  A medical doctor who practises homeopathy was the clincher for me, and set me on the road to recovery. I am amazed at the number of people who I come across who have suffered the same condition, most without any effective treatment.

The saving grace through all this has been that mostly I have been able to draw and paint throughout my illness. I have been deep in the world of watercolour. It was good to have the notion that art is actually good for you proved. The combination of meditative hand movements and drifting thoughts is restorative.

Working on a computer has been very hard. It is much more draining than you all imagine. Which is why I haven’t posted anything here for such a long time.


And that is the answer to the question what the hell has happened to Ben for the last year.


works on paper



Here it comes: Sluice Art Fair and the Essex Embassy

The Blackwater Polytechnic are sending an artistic aid mission to London town, in the form of the Essex Embassy. We would be delighted if you could visit us. 
SATURDAY 19th & SUNDAY 20th OCTOBER 12.00 – 21.00
It contains, like Essex, all you need for a visually interesting time – rich texture format, lovely colours, sparkles, very sad stitching, ultra violence, quiet rural poetry, and concrete, from artists Leigh Cameron, Ben Coode-Adams, Emery-Whitworth, David Gates, Sara Impey, Paula Kane, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins, Sonia York. You have to look though, and look hard. No half measures.
Sluice Art Fair is showcasing predominately artist run galleries and organisations, with a smattering of independent curators. So it’s the REAL THING – the motherlode of invention.

We like things made by men and women with their hands. People here in Essex are not much interested in conforming to norms. We’re not much interested in cosy visual clichés. We’re not much interested in illustrating theory. We like action and stuff and things. That’s why we came here. We celebrate and promote a provincial parochial meaningful regional voice with depth and seriousness.

 Essex Embassy web safe flyer


Blackwater Polytechnic  is a staggeringly vast 16th century Grade II listed timber framed barn in rural North Essex. It was converted by artists Ben Coode-Adams and Freddie Robins into a home and work place. It is now a colosseum of visual production, a place for like-minded fellow travellers to come together to make and learn.

Thank you David Howe

It is with great regret that we announce that David Howe has left the Polytechnic cohort to explore new horizons. He has been a stalwart for the last nine months, bringing his skill and hard work to a number of projects. We can strongly recommend Dave for almost everything. He can cook, chainsaw, fix machinery, entertain, but is also self-contained and self-motivated and works like a demon. Thanks Dave for everything. We’re coming to stay in your dome.

DSC04467 - Version 246 Dave

Field Trips

The Blackwater Polytechnic faculty took three field trips this summer. The first was to the far North of Scotland – Achiltibuie to be precise. The second was a solo trip by Freddie Robins to Shetland to catch up with the World’s knitters. The third was to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India.

We love it here in the beautiful Blackwater Valley but it’s essential to get away and refresh our eyes with new textures of land and city scape. It is very good to be reminded of how irrelevant we are in a place like India which is so vast and self-sufficient. I love Indian Vernacular Modernism in architecture. It is generally a joyful cluster of styles, textures and colours. Amongst many highlights of our trip the wonderful Kerala Folklore and Theatre Museum in Ernakulam stands out.

07 Achiltibuie tin shack


22 Royal armouries panoramaThe Royal Armouries, Leeds

23 Bowes Museum

St. Francis – The Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard, County Durham

Below: a vibrant church and a disused cinema, Sultan Bathery – Wayanad – Kerala

10 Ice Cream Church Sultan Bathery

11 Cinema Sultan Bathery

Folklore Museum – Ernakulam – Kerala

25 Horse and elephant (1)

26 two heads

27 two heads


28 knees

29 breastplates





Typoretum’s ‘Happy Days’ poster for sale


Justin Knopp from Typoretum produced this wonderful print for our ‘Happy Days’ exhibition. I like the way it is very happy, but seems a bit confused about that emotion at first, but then doesn’t care, a miasma of joy summing up a sensation-full summers’ day: kicking back and drifting off, looking up at the clouds. You can buy it here http://shop.typoretum.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/limited-edition-happy-days-wood-type-letterpress-print

This poster is hand printed in a split fount blend of four colours on an 1888 Wharfedale cylinder press, directly from hand-typeset antique wooden typefaces. This poster is strictly limited to 50 signed and numbered copies.

This print measures 480 x 640mm and is printed onto 225gsm Zerkall mould-made paper stock, with deckles to all edges. Posters will be mailed in a poster tube.


Our un-normal exhibition design for Happy Days

Our barn where we live is an intriguing space because like certain theaters, the Brixton Academy springs to mind, it has the scenery built in. At it’s centre is a large open space, which might be considered the village square, a set for Smetana’s Bartered Bride; that opera being an upbeat comedy with jolly peasants and ‘Happy Days’. In the depths of winter the central space is more like the set for Janacek’s Jenufa; a dark tale of brute individual and mob passion and child murder. The central space is a place of performance where we enact daily life but given its grand and extraordinary envelope we are given a tinge of the epic.

Feeringbury Farm

©James Brittain

At one end where the silos sit we have the set of the ‘castle’ where the Princess (how we view her) lives (or at least sleeps) with her parents the King and Queen (how she views us we hope). At the other end we have the back stage area which is our studios where the magic is spun in secret.

Part of what makes our barn such a wonderful place to live is it’s imaginative cast. You feel grand just walking into it, as though something important will happen and often it does. Our barn is not a neutral space. It could never be neutral nor would we want it to be. We have fought our whole lives against cliché and received wisdom – against ‘nice-i-fication’ as Freddie calls it. Cliché is a prison of lazy thought. It doesn’t help make things better, easier or safer. When we decided to hold an exhibition in the barn to have built white walls to pretend that the barn did not exist would have been to invoke cliché and diminish the barn and the work we wished to show.

Then I became ill, leaving David Howe to build most of the walls. I would start him off with a process, a set of rules, using bits of left over building material and he would follow that through. I would shuffle out in my slippers to check on progress and then go back to bed. The configuration of the walls and their number was a product of ‘see what we have’ then tweak it to work. We arrived at something not dissimilar to a street-scape, the interesting bit above the dreary transitory retail signage, with surfaces colliding and hopefully working together in a studied improvisation.

 60 red blocks

Then we put the art on the walls. For us the rich texture of the walls is normal. That is what we live with. We are used to disentangling one surface from another. Not for us the lazy uninterrupted glide of the eye across the walls of most galleries, with the artwork a gentle trip, the label the most eye-catching thing in the place. With us your eyes have to work, to disentangle. They have to learn to love surface and material again; to work things out, to see relationships. The point is we may not be right, we may do a disservice to the artwork. We may have closed the gap between wall and work too much. But you will have enjoyed making up your own mind about that. You will have enjoyed the puzzle we have set you and that will give enduring pleasure. Isn’t it good to see stuff again?


61 sara odds

‘Happy Days’ exhibition open this weekend 12th/13th/14th July Come Visit

The second weekend of ‘Happy Days’ commences today. The exhibition housed within a sixteenth century timber-framed barn smashes up the notion of the ‘white cube’ gallery. There is no pretence at neutral. The hierarchy between structure and artworks is not normal.

51 entrance

We have created spaces where unexpected conversations and trysts can occur, between artworks, between the structures they hang on and the building in which they are housed. These spaces are un-normal. It looks really cool and you will have never seen anything like it before. People are really enjoying it. We’d love to see you here. We are near Colchester in Essex. To get our address use the contact page.