Emma was one of 2019's first Lawson Park Volunteers, and we invited her to write about the experience:
Grizedale holds a special place in the trajectory of my arts career. I was fortunate to be invited to begin 2019 at Grizedale Arts Lawson Park residency as a volunteer, several years after I originally volunteered back in 2013. A week of toil on the land—coppicing trees for fences, painting functional sculptures, cooking mangelwurzel soup, and fixing poly-tunnels—took me back to my roots whilst re-establishing my faith in the unbounded possibilities of contemporary art.
I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know what triggered it, or if it was just my destiny (to frame it in a ridiculous construct), but I knew from a very early age that I wanted to pursue art. I don’t come from a family of artists, or visited galleries until my early teens, but I was around 7-years old when I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist and around 8-years old when I opened my own private art gallery under the stairs in our family home. Art has remained an unshakable force in my life, it’s been engrained in everything I’ve done, it features in all my most vivid memories, and at times has disappointed me to the point of heartbreak, but my enthusiasm for it has only ever expanded.
I was raised in an agricultural family with the freedom to run the countryside, to be inventive and creative through play. My family were creative, as a child the clothes I wore had been lovingly crafted by my Mother who had also made most of our home furnishings from scratch, my Father had packed our home with alternative technologies, heating our rooms with a system run from a coal fire which always had the latest batch of laundry drying above it. Outside, we grew vegetables, composted and recycled all our household waste. My family life was overtly different to the rest of my peers, but I never considered it to be creative until much later.
Art remained a common force in my life, and I eventually enrolled in art school, a grown-up version of the creative space I had occupied as a care-free child, just here, in the adult world, it was called ‘experimenting’and cost money. I spent my precious vodka money on expensive art materials—paint, canvas, readymade textiles, haberdashery—to produce art that was of a market-standard, ready to sell. I churned out painting after painting, but it always felt a little pointless producing rt that had no useful function once completed. It went against everything I had learnt as a child; it felt wasteful.
After graduating I entered the art world and continued to paint whilst earning my rent (and vodka) money working in the institutions who decided what artists work was worthy of public attention. I never really understood the system, exhibitions would come and go, people would worry about signage, ticket prices and what themed goods the gift shop should stock. This all felt so far away from the exhibitions I had hosted in my under-stairs gallery and I was left wondering if there was another way: then I spent week volunteering at Lawson Park with Grizedale Arts.
Lawson Park is a space where my old life and new life merge together into a heady mixture of agriculture and contemporary art. After my first visit, I was inspired to leave my institutional role and widen my exploration of art, heading out to South Asia, where I have lived and worked for the past four years. In South Asia I learnt how the art world operates outside Western institutional models, engaging with projects that have found alternative routes for creativity to flourish, including the inimitable Somiya Kala Vidyawho provide design education to traditional artisans. I established projects with my peers, which put the power of art in the hands of those not usually given the freedom to explore their creative reflexes, such as Katab: Not Only Money, which recently brought the art work of female Katab (patchwork) artisans to UK audiences.
I returned to the UK in October, and after taking a few months to regroup, I knew I needed to start the next chapter of my arts adventure at Grizedale. It’s an organisation which makes absolute sense to me and reaffirms my faith that art can affect positive changes within society, whilst also having a useful and sustainable function within it. Where my next career steps will take me, only time will tell, but I remain inspired by Grizedale’s example and have the motivation to carve out an alternative trajectory for myself with others who share my passion: to make art useful and to celebrate the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.
A recent dinner in Norwich with my favourite nature guru
Richard Mabey brought to my attention a utopian
cricket ground that could influence our own endeavours to revision
the home of cricket in our local village of
Coniston: Sir Paul Getty's 'cottage
ornee' cricket pavilion set in the heart of the woods of
the Chilterns (that's the bit soon to be changed by high-speed
We won't quite have Getty's budget but we may well have his
Ben Sadler, aka one bit of Juneau
projects, survived a recent stag night at Parkamoor with his mates, before getting married
to the lovely Katy. We fed them a sunny brunch to
see them on their way back home to Brum after whatever stags do in
an offgrid house up a hill....
Congratulations to them both from all of us at Grizedale
Our boys Juneau Projects have put our Eastside Projects (Birmingham) Decent Proposal The Musical online here for you audio fans. Karen's microphone's a bit indistinct but it's all good fun. Also features Bedwyr Williams....
You might like to listen to this programme about Chinese artist
Li Yuan-Chia who lived in Cumbria for a time and set up a
When Taiwan's first abstract artist settled in a Cumbrian
farmhouse, his life changed. Deriving inspiration from landscape
and local people, he encouraged new British artists and anticipated
the success of contemporary Chinese visual art.
Li Yuan Chia was one of the first significant Chinese abstract
artists of the 20th century. This programme, presented by Sally
Lai, the director of Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre, examines his
career from the place he spent the last 28 years of his life: a
stone farmhouse, built next to Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.
Born in China in 1929, Li was educated in Taiwan. He worked and
exhibited in Italy before moving toLondon in 1963. Here, Li's
reputation was established with monochrome paintings and scrolls
marked with a tiny, isolated dot.
But Li came to dislike the fashionable metropolitan art world of
the mid-1960s. In 1968 he met Cumbrian painter Winifred Nicholson,
who pursuaded Li to move away from the busy capital to a far more
remote location, near her own home. With his own hands Li then set
about converting a farm building, the Banks, at Brampton, where he
built a gallery, library, theatre, printing press, children's art
room and photographic darkroom, and opened it to the public. It
became a popular attraction for local people, art afficianados and
tourists walking Hadrian's Wall.
Over the next ten years over 300 artists exhibited at the Banks,
which was also the base from which Li's organisation, the LYC
Foundation, was able to commission work by young British artists,
some of whom became very successful later, including sculptors and
land artists Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Bill Woodrow.
Li's own work moved into abstract sculpture, using magnets, gold
leaf, plastic discs suspended on plastic thread and additional
text. The landscape also affected him, and he began to explore
photography and environmental art. Always, he wrote poetry.
But after Arts Council funding became increasingly limited, (Is
this right? That can't be right, DG) the LYC Foundation had to
struggle to survive. Li continued to produce art, which became
increasingly contemplative. He fell ill with cancer and died in
1994. Art historians now acknowledge Li Yuan Chia as having paved
the way for the current expansion of Chinese contemporary art. But
his former home in Cumbria is derelict.
Angus Farquhar of NVA in Glasgow recently invited Karen & Adam to
share an inspirational but very wet (just like home then) tour of
the unique St Peter's seminary just outside Glasgow. abandoned now
but a rare example thereabouts of an architectural icon of the
1970's and now justly listed. NVA are bravely engaging in the
battle to reclaim the building and surrounding landscape from the
jaws of Nature - the grounds include an immense range of historic
buildings from the 15th / 16th century onwards, and a landscape to
A good array of images of the incredible site can be seen on
Flickr here, and you can read about Historic
Scotland's detailed report on the building its significance and
possible future here.
On Sat. 14th November, Guestroom launched their
new Lawson Park Library with a Coniston Institute film screening
with Oxen Park Cinema Club and a cruise on the solar
powered Ruskin Launch on Coniston Water.
Sailors pictured above (left to right) Rob
Little (UCLAN), Glenn Boulter (Musician /
artist & GA intern), Adam Sutherland (GA
director), Maria Benjamin (Guestroom),
Dorian Moore (GA technologist and tall person)
& musician Jack Maynard.
A big thanks to all who braved the rain to work at or visit the charity open garden held yesterday for the National Garden Scheme - especially Julie, Meg, Matt, Sophie, Alison & Joe & family, David and Chris.
Sadly the weather had a big impact on visitor numbers compared to last year's 200-odd, but as the third launch we've done here this summer the odds were against us for three sunny days on demand.....
One of the garden's star performers was a very simple but stunning carpet of annuals flowering just 8 weeks after sowing, right outside the hostel. By popular demand, here's a link to the Pictorial Meadows online shop, where the 'Candy' flower seed mix we used (see pic) can be bought.