Resistant Materials III


Ten years of going against the grain

Open Studio event
Feering Bury Farm Barn
Coggeshall Road, Feering
Essex CO5 9RB
Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th September 2019 11.00 – 18.00

Julie Arkell, Martin Bridges, EMC Collard, Ben Coode-Adams, Simon Emery, Jane Frederick, Sara Impey, Pru Green, Rosie Harman, Tristan Howe, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins

for your pleasure and stimulation
Disturbing knitting, embroidered words, useful ceramics, un-useful ceramics, paintings of how things really are, printed slogans, tattoo flash drawings, custom car parts, calligraphic love letters, comfortable cooking and cups of tea
CAFÉ curated and run by Julie Arkell

Resistant Materials goes to Sluice Exchange Berlin (more info)

Do please come to our presentation at Sluice Exchange Berlin. 

Sluice_Exchange Berlin 2018

Das Kühlhaus Berlin

Luckenwalder Str. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany

16-18 November 2018 Friday 1800-2300 Saturday  + Sunday 1100-1900

E.M.C. Collard, Ben Coode-Adams, Fiona Curran, Justin Knopp, Freddie Robins

Below is the article Freddie and I wrote for Sluice Magazine on the theme of local vs international, which is available here:

It is well worth subscribing to the magazine as it is very good.

For us the idea of local is central to what we do. Living where we live ‘local’ is made up of people, culture and landscape – although Freddie and I have different ideas about all those things.

For me, the concept of a broader international art context that is somehow better than a local one because it is international I don’t accept. The further idea that engaging with an international context is somehow more politically progressive I think is fundamentally erroneous. To my mind the motors of art production and innovation (if there is such a thing) have always literally been located in a place. From cave paintings, through Renaissance church painting, to Kurt Schwitters working in Cologne – these are all art that has been produced from and because of a specific and urgent geographic circumstance. I think that aesthetic geographic specificity often remains but it is masked by the ubiquity of globalised markets.

Aside from what I see in front of me, it is my mistranslation of art works and ideas across time, place, and material that is the catalyst for my own work to change and what I find endlessly fascinating. When I look at, for example Japanese prints, how can I make any headway beyond purely aesthetic appreciation? A profound visual misunderstanding is the foundation of a cracking awkwardness that can be rocket fuel for creativity. By embracing our unique flawed local selves, we shed superficial aspirations to belong and be the same as everyone else. Consequently, it is possible to be local anywhere.

Red Flexer Ben Coode-Adams 2018 Watercolour on paper H58xW76cms

Living and working in this rural area there is a tremendous weight of ‘local’ both as parochial, i.e. small minded (not an underserved description) but also as banding together with a shared sense of identity. Essex is generally derided within the UK as being culture-less and uncouth. But I think there is more truth and beauty in uncouth yokel-ism than in an identikit dandified pretended internationalism. You just have to work a bit harder to go beyond your own preconceptions and comfortable echo-chamber identity politics to grasp it. We, here in Essex, must do this all the time. That is the work of not living and working in the centre.

Freddie writes:

“Many people have an idealised view of living in the countryside. They desire cheaper and larger housing, a garden, to have more children or a dog, (usually both), better schools, less crime and greater personal safety. A move to the countryside is for many a dream, a dream which, although I do live in the countryside, I do not share. Their dream is my reality.

Willie Lott’s cottage: this is the scene made famous in John Constable’s ‘The Haywain’. This mill and piece of land was owned by Constable and is now owned by the National Trust. Photo: Ben Coode-Adams

The countryside is undoubtedly beautiful. At times it is downright breath-taking, but what do you do with all that beauty? It does not move, or inspire me, creatively. Where is the ‘grit’ or the ‘rub’ that I found in my urban life that gave me the impetus to be an artist? Unlike Alice Walker[1] I do not want horses in my landscape. I want people, and lots of them, not just walkers who have lost their way. It is people and our very human predicament that I respond to. However, I want my work to have a relationship to my experiences. I want it to relate to the locality in which I live and in which it was made. My practice is essentially autoethnographic. The American scholar and researcher, Carolyn Ellis, defines this as “research, writing, story and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social and political” [2]. In my practice ‘making’ predominantly replaces ‘writing’.

We live just across the county line from ‘Constable Country’ with Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s House, the site of The Hay Wain (1821). Constable’s most famous image and voted the second most popular painting in any British gallery[3]. I am all for the popular but I cannot agree with Constable when he wrote, “The sound of water escaping from mill dams… willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork. I love such things… As long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places……They have always been my delight.”

Someone Else’s Dream – burnt  Freddie Robins  2014 – 2016 Reworked knitted jumper, mixed fibres Photo: Douglas Atfield

Unlike Constable, I do not paint. I knit. A medium idealised and derided in equal measure. An activity associated with the domestic and the parochial, a far cry from what comes to mind when we talk of internationalism. In ‘Someone Else’s Dream’,I make use of the picture knits that were so popular when I was a teenager.  In the 1980’s these were regarded as highly fashionable but soon fell out of fashion and have never regained serious appreciation. I have been working with picture knits that depict pastoral scenes; farmhouses with animals, villages complete with churches, pretty streams, rolling hills, blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I have not made these jumpers but found them on eBay. Many hours of skilled labour no longer wanted or valued. Using a technique known asswiss darning, an embroidery stitch that mimics the knitted stitch, I have worked on top of the knitted countryside scenes, changing the idyllic picturesque scenes to the scenes of misery that can, and do, happen in the countryside.

Some of the scenes that I have embroidered are from personal experience, some from news stories, all have happened in the countryside. I have embroidered a car crash, a figure hanged from a tree, a house fire, a body drowned in a river, fly-tipping and a crime investigation scene complete with white tent, police DO NOT CROSS tape, police van, car and helicopter.

Someone Else’s Dream – murdered Freddie Robins  2014 – 2016 Reworked knitted jumper, mixed fibres Photo: Douglas Atfield

Upon initial viewing these works have a cosy familiarity but the soft, knitted jumpers are completely at odds with the imagery.  The material and form resist their stereotype.  They exist as a disturbance to those dreams and a friendly reminder of reality.”

Freddie Robins 2018

I wrote a proposal for an exhibition at M100, an artist-run gallery in Odense, Denmark ( back in April 2017. It is a wonderful optimistic piece of writing about utopian communities trying to make things better for themselves and those around them. And then in June 2017 it was revealed that my neighbours, even some of my friends did not share what I hope are values of tolerance and openness, values I took to be self-evidently for the good. For me this caused a profound and drawn out soul searching. I didn’t want to make art, or put on events for these people.

Cloud Giants Ben Coode-Adams 2018 watercolour on paper 2018 H46xW61cms Photo: Douglas Atfield

I spent the winter disconsolately picking up litter from the verges of the roads surrounding our farm. At least I could make the little piece of land near me better. Each day a new crop of MacDonald’s packaging, high strength cider and high caffeine drinks cans would appear. I had to work out a way to live with this.

I found a receipt in a MacDonald’s paper sack. The local council can use this to track the person who dropped the litter and prosecute them. I was faced with a dilemma. Should I hand in the receipt, an action with unknown and potentially catastrophic consequences for the individual involved? I just put the whole package in the recycling bin. Who am I, from my super quinoa privileged, white middle kale aged home owning male over-educated well-travelled CO2producing position, to stand in judgement on this person? I stopped picking litter.

Ethically I feel unable to say that a world with MacDonald’s litter, jet skis, high powered motorbikes, giant Porsches, and fountains of prosecco, is a worse world. To live here in Essex, I have to let go of my indignation over these things and submit to other people’s right to determine their own way of living. I will not validate actions I despise by pushing back against them. My only resistance is making art which I make for myself.

Dedham vale on fire Photo Ben Coode-Adams

Landscape and the countryside has become a central theme of my curatorial and artistic interests because the land is politicised more than ever. It is the chemical and biological battleground between the EU and the US.

The folksy countryside is the locus of much of English identity, close-knit village life, country pubs, winding lanes, thatched cottages, baking cakes, jam making and cricket. Our identity may be embedded in the rural, but it is the urban, by which I mean London, that dominates.

UK farmers, whose precarious custodianship of the landscape, is tied to sustainable environmental policy under the terms of essential EU subsidy. Farmers rely on the free movement of people, attracting farm-skilled workers, no longer available in the UK, from the Balkans and Baltic.

The view of landscape from the city is very different from living in it. Being here in Essex there is not all that much romance. Here in this landscape it is mainly by turns muddy or dusty. It is dark. The birds are staggeringly loud. There is never quiet. A strimmer or chainsaw is always struggling to carve a clear space. This land is resistant. It bites and stings, catches at your clothes, and obstructs you at every turn.

I am interested in artists who work with stuff, actual physical things produced with skill and craft, rather than just bought and piled up.

I very much like manipulated physical material because it is uncompromisingly visual. I am naturally distrustful of text and words, of theory. I like action. The protests about our leaving the EU, against President Trump, and in support of the #metoo campaign have neatly combined text and action into potent and joyful slogans. I feel we can channel some of that imagery of resistance to mitigate against the political neutering effected by the political right in the UK. We can use words as material and image to at least raise a fist in solidarity and a middle finger to power. Swearing does make you feel better.

Proof Ben Coode-Adams and Justin Knopp 2018 dimensions variable Letterpress on paper


[1]Walker, Alice. (1985). Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

[2]Ellis, Carolyn. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press

[3]Poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in association with The National Gallery, London. 2005


Resistant Materials goes to Sluice Exchange Berlin

Do please come to our presentation at Sluice Exchange Berlin. 

Sluice_Exchange Berlin 2018

Das Kühlhaus Berlin

Luckenwalder Str. 3, 10963 Berlin, Germany

16-18 November 2018
Fri 1800-2300
Sat + Sun 1100-1900

E.M.C. Collard

Ben Coode-Adams

Fiona Curran

Justin Knopp

Freddie Robins

We’ve been having a good deal of private time – working things out – over the last year. It’s been work but productive so we were delighted to show at M100 in Odense, Denmark in September. We organised an exhibition called ‘Resistant Materials’. Thank you M100 ( for hosting us and precipitating a crystallisation of our anger, and sadness,  joy and hope. Thank you Theis Vallø Madsen for a very interesting take on our work (see below) and thank you to Kristine Mengel for taking great photographs. In the end we’re just speaking for ourselves.

Ben Coode-Adams & Justin Knopp  Proof  2018 letterpress wood type on paper, dimensions variable Photo: Kristine Mengel

The exhibition concerned how it is possible to fight back specifically, when discussion is generally shut down. We showed work by Ben Coode-Adams, Fiona Curran, Justin Knopp, and Freddie Robins.

For the Berlin show we are delighted to add E.M.C. Collard to the line-up. Her paintings fit right in to our discussion about biting countryside with their visceral natural imagery.

‘Resisting Coziness

A Danocentric Perspective on the works of Coode-Adams, Robins, Knopp and Curran

Theis Vallø Madsen

Danes are famous for their ”hygge” brought about by knitted jumpers, rain, dimmed lighting, cookies, and half-timbered houses in the countryside. In recent years coziness and other forms of “moods”, “Stimmung” or atmospheres have become objects of studies in academia. Philosophers regard these kinds of “atmospheres” as aesthetic phenomena in-between objective and subjective states of being. According to German philosopher Gernot Böhme, atmospheres are typical intermediate phenomena bordering subjecthood and objecthood. A pleasant or unpleasant atmosphere are far from vague or weak but on the contrary “[…] bathe everything in a certain light.” They are totalizing. Yet it is possible to resist and even change a specific atmosphere in a room by an extra-ordinary event. Something has to break, or somebody has to say something completely out of line in order to change the mood of the room. Artworks have also been known to disturb pleasant moods by picturing or including things that are usually left out in order not to spoil a common sense of well-being and harmony.

Freddie Robins Someone Else’s Dream  Series of reworked knitted jumpers, mixed fibres 2014 – 2016 L-R. -burnt, -hanged, -crashed

The works of the four British artists currently exhibiting at M100 all seem to – to a Dane at least – resist coziness and other kinds of pleasantness. Freddie Robins’ hand knitted jumpers invoke a sense of coziness brought forth by their materiality but the reworked pictures work against the intuitive feel and cultural signification of their material. Materiality and imagery are at odds with one another.

The paintings by Ben Coode-Adams are also uneasy. Things and shapes are flickering, worming around or rearranging themselves out and into one another. These paintings are on the move.

Ben Coode-Adams Self-Portrait with Bluebird on a red ground 2018 Watercolour on paper H58xW76cms Photo: Douglas Atfield

Fiona Curran’s paintings picture clouds and rainbows in synthetic or strange forms. They have been short-circuited or recharged from an unusual energy source. Justin Knopp’s type based posters promote resistance by words and materials. The four artists are all navigating in-between different states or materials whether that would be coziness and discomfort, materiality and image, or harmony and disharmony. The artworks appear to be uneasy with their surroundings and their current situation. This uneasiness is much more interesting than consensus and established truths.’

Paintings and embroideries by Fiona Curran and Ben Coode-Adams Photo: Kristine Mengel

We decided to take this show to Berlin with Sluice Exchange. This show builds on our article in Sluice Magazine Autumn 2018 concerning local v’s international. Ben’s photograph of Dedham Vale is on the cover.

‘Watercolour Now’ at the Sentinel Gallery and the Sunday Times Watercolour Prize

‘Watercolour Now’

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.