Herbarium at Lytes Cary Manor

It’s not every National Trust property that puts on a sculpture exhibition. So, it was a pleasure to visit  Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset and find Herbarium demanding a perusal.


Curated by Yvonna Demczynska from Flow Gallery, London the sculptors used as their inspiration the 1578 Niewe Herball translated into English by one of the Manor’s owners, Henry Lyte (and viewable at the Manor).


The sculptures are dotted around the courtyard and the garden.Now, as this blog suggests I do like sculpture but this was a challenge in several ways. While the sculptures themselves are interesting to look at both in isolation and in situ in the grounds, there’s very little information around about the who, how and why of the exhibition.


Visitors are given a flyer on the way into the grounds, and a single booklet on the artists and the sculptures is kept in the Great Hall of the Manor. That really detracts from the experience of the exhibition. We know where the jumping off point was for the artists, but no more. For example, we know the name of artists involved, but not who created which sculptures.

I think it’s a missed trick by both the National Trust and the organisers, especially given the stated aims of the exhibition are to ‘inspire and challenge’ audiences and ‘raise the quality of craft seen in Somerset’.

But it’s still definitely worth going to see. It’s on until 30th September 2016 and you need to pay entry to Lytes Cary Manor to visit it.

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Yinka Shonibare MBE at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Earlier this year When I read that the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was going to show works by Yinka Shonibare MBE I wasn’t that fussed. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I had never heard of Shonibare. Maybe it was the photo of a fox in a suit, holding a gun. Whatever the reason, I only got round to seeing FABRIC-ATION today, almost 3 months after it opened.

I can’t believe I almost missed seeing this gem. It’s dazzling.

Sonibare’s work encompasses not just sculpture, but painting, collage and film as well, and his exhibition extends across the sculpture park. All I managed to see today were the sculptures and paintings in the Underground Gallery, and in the grounds immediately outside. But what I saw was so rich, so vibrant, and so thought-provoking I didn’t want to move on to anything else until I’d digested what I’d seen.

Yinka Shonibare MBE was born in London in 1962, moved to Nigeria when he was three, later returning to the UK to study art. If his name rings a bell it may be because he was one of the artists to provide a public work of art for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London (the maquette for which is displayed elsewhere in the Park).

Yinka Shonibare

FABRIC-ATION features over 30 works from 2002 – 2013, including two major commissions, Wind Sculptures (2013), which are premiered here. Wind Sculpture II sits at the top of the park with a grand view over the valley to the wind turbines on the hills opposite. Painted with what I’ve learned is Shonibare’s signature batik-inspired surface pattern, these sculptures appear fluid like fabric caught by the breeze, but are made from fibreglass.

Wind Sculpture II 2013

His sculptures in the gallery also use vibrant batik-like prints in costumes, often incongrously to make a statement. These are so beautifully rich that it takes a while just to absorb the first impression of the sculptures, before even understanding what they are speaking to us. Look beyond the busy colour and there is a real simplicity of message – we receive it loud and clear.

In Revolution Kids (2012), as a response to the riots in England and the Arab Spring Shonibare has created half-human, half-animal embodiments of a bold, insurrectionist spirit, waving replicas of Colonel Gaddafi’s golden gun and carrying the obligatory Blackberry. Courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park

And in the Flying Machine sculptures (2012) cute-looking fabric-skinned aliens steer Da Vinci-esque flying machines, highlighting how ‘alien’ should be non-threatening, and showing how old-fashioned attitudes to ‘the other’ can be.


It’s a great exhibition, captivating, colourful and inspiring. There’s a lot to take in. Once I’d seen just a handful of his pieces in the concourse of the Underground Gallery my head was full of “wow” and connections and inspiration. I could have left then, satisfied with what I had seen. But his sculptures are so full of life I felt drawn into the rooms in spite of myself. He’s a very clever man.

If you want to see it for yourself, it’s on until 1 September 2013. If you can only visit once make sure you have plenty of time to visit all Shonibare works and to absorb them. I’ll be going back to see the bits I missed, and to spend some more time in the Underground Gallery while I still have chance to step into the dazzling world of Yinka Shonibare MBE.

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The art of the chainsaw

So, with the first (hopefully not last) lovely weather in May we went for a walk through the St Ives Estate in Bingley near Bradford. The seat of the Ferrand family until 1929 it is now a 550 acre country park with woodland, a coppice pond, a heritage centre and a very nice cafe.

We were hoping to wander along slopes carpeted in bluebells, but the slow, slow creep of spring meant we were a few weeks too early.

Instead we had the pleasure of a beautiful walk through woodland punctuated by fantastical chainsaw sculptures by Rodney Holland.


Some of them are showing signs of age, eroding naturally with time and weather, but that doesn’t detract from the surprise of spotting them, and the artistry of creating them.


It would be a great place to take the kids at twilight on Halloween…


If you’ve never come across chainsaw sculptures before they’re a mix of the old art of woodcarving and the technology of chainsaws. Although chainsaw carving only started as an art form in the 1950s/60s it has now become an international movement producing works of art that are staggering in their scale, and in their artistic and technical skill.

As well as creating sculptures on commission for private clients and organisations, some chainsaw artists compete in public to create the best sculpture in the time allotted. If you’re intrigued the 9th English Open Chainsaw Carving Competition takes place over August Bank Holiday at the Cheshire Game & Country Fair near Knutsford. You can watch the sculptors produce their masterpieces and – if you really like what they’ve created – bid for one in the auction.  I’ll see you there!

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The Olympic Road River

If you were watching the men and women’s Olympic cycling road race last weekend, you might have seen the long snake of white paint making its way up the road onto Box Hill. And, like me, maybe you thought that it was some mad grafitti by an enthusiastic cycling fan.

Box Hill Road River by Richard Long

Well, it was; sort of.

Keen cyclist and celebrated British landscape artist, Richard Long was inspired by the traditional road graffiti chalked onto the road by fans at the Tour De France to create the Box Hill Road River. Working in the middle of the night he created the 100 metre long swirling, dynamic line from bright white road paint as a lasting legacy of the London 2012 Games.

Long is more usually seen working with natural materials. He is well-known, for example, for walking through landscapes making ephemeral sculptures en route of the materials he finds on his journey.  Some of his work is currently showing at The Hepworth, Wakefield.

The Box Hill Road River has attracted a mixed response. Fans of Richard Long appreciate the work as another of his reflections on the place of humans in nature. Many cyclists, though, have been less flattering, querying its artistic value, and expressing concern over safety – when white road paint gets wet it’s dangerous to cycle on.

As a cyclist myself I understand their concerns, but there’s room either side of the Road River for wet weather cycling. And I would hate to see ‘elf and safety interefering with the arts unnecessarily and stifling creativity.

Box Hill is already a popular destination for families escaping London for a day in the country. And this work, commissioned by London 2012 and the National Trust, will be another draw to the area, acting as both a reminder of the Olympics and the cycling that gave us our first 2012 Olympic medal.

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Die Walkure (The Valkyries)

I’m not a fan of opera. Why then did I spend nearly 6 hours (with two intervals, thankfully) watching Opera North at the Lowry Theatre in Salford last Saturday?

It started with the lovely “summer” we had last year. Half way through our staycation, as we limped back up the M6 with a gale-shredded tent stuffed into the car, I flicked through the internet to find events we could go to in the remaining week of our holiday. Events preferably indoors, without wind, rain or flimsy tents.

That’s how we found ourselves at Opera North’s concert staging of Das Rheingold, the first of the four parts of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Rather than placing the orchestra in the pit and leaving the audience to focus on some dodgy acting from the singers (sorry opera lovers), in a ‘concert staging’ the orchestra are as much the stars of the show. The orchestra plays on stage with the singers performing in front. Some introduction and the English surtitles are projected on screens above the performers.

We had no real idea what to expect, but we were utterly enthralled by the concert/performance. And that’s why we returned to watch the second part of the Ring Cycle – Die Walkure – last weekend.

And we’re so glad we did. The singing and orchestral performance were impeccable and extremely enjoyable. The sound of 8 Valkyries singing the familiar tune The Ride of the Valkyries sent shivers down my spine. And now I know what the Valkyries are laughing at in that piece (their horses’ behaviour towards each other if, like me you’ve always wondered)!

Of particular note were Clive Bayley, playing a chilling and thunderous Hunding, and Annalena Persson as Brunnhilde, the most favoured of the Valkyries, with her clear diction and voice full of emotion.

The only quibble I had was with the logistics of the minimal set. The surtitles above the performers were hard to read if you sat at the far sides of the theatre. I like to know what I am listening to, and wished I could have seen all the text, but it’s a small grumble.

Opera North will be performing the remaining two parts of Wagner’s Ring Cycle over the next two years. If you enjoy good music, go. You don’t need to know the story up until now (the programme will tell you) and you don’t need to be a Wagner expert. Just sit back and the let the music transport you to a fantasy land of dwarves, giants, gods and mortals.

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The loss of language and the language of loss

At the Hay Festival last week I listened to two poetry readings, one after the other. Both, coincidentally, talked about the loss of language.

Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, had also experienced the loss of language. Reading some sparkling poetry from her forthcoming collection, Ice (add it to your wishlist!), she also talked about her relationship to the Welsh language.

Although honoured last year by the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod for her contribution to Welsh language and culture, she recounted that her mother had deliberately restricted her exposure to the Welsh language while she was growing up. Having noticed that the landlord to whom they paid rent for their farmhouse spoke English, whereas they spoke Welsh, her mother had determined that ensuring her children spoke only English would help them get on in life – the become the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have -nots’. It caused some friction with her father, a proud Welshman, but it seems her mother’s decisionb was final and so Gillian grew up primarily speaking English.

But that childhood loss of Welsh language has not stopped Gillian Clarke from being loved by her Welsh (and international!) fans, being the national poet, nor becoming an honorary druid.  And she does now read and speak Welsh, although, of course, it was harder to learn as an adult.

Philip Gross is a poet I haven’t previously come across, although that’s my loss as he and his poetry has won plaudits and prizes. He was reading from his latest collection, Deep Field, in which he relates his elderly father’s gradual loss of his several languages, first to deafness, then to profound expressive aphasia.

Have you ever had that experience where the word you’re looking for is on the tip of your tongue, but you simply cannot spit it out? It’s that thingummy, you know, the wotsit doo dah…

Imagine experiencing that more and more frequently until you struggle to communicate; that’s profound expressive aphasia. Then imagine it affecting all four languages you’ve learned; that was the experience of Philip Gross’s father.

As his father lost his language, Philip became his interpreter, translating looks and gestures in a way only people with a close bond can. His meditative poetry reflects that closeness to his father and the loss they both experienced as his father struggled to communicate. It is a worthy tribute.


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A few wise words from the Hay Festival

This week I am lucky enough to be at the Hay Festival – a famous literary festival held at Hay-in-Wye just over the border in Powys, Wales. It has been a pretty rainy affair (I think they may have to re-use the sunny photos from last year in their publicity!) but the weather hasn’t dampened our spirits.

We’re here for the full 10 days, and summarising all the events I’ve already attended would take just as long again! So, here are a few gems from some of the speakers …

I am not defined by my scars but my ability to heal

Lemn Sissay, Poet, on why he still has hope about the issue of climate change.

It’s the difference between walking round inside architecture and looking at an architectural plan

Nick Coleman, music journalist, explaining the difference between hearing with two ears and hearing with only one, after he suddenly and permanently lost his hearing in one ear. He is absolutely spot on, and I shall shamelessly steal this phrase to explain to others what I experience.

I don’t think there has ever been a golden age of poetry

Simon Armitage, Poet, refuting the suggestion that poetry has already reached its zenith and is in decline. He’s right. We look back on the time of Heaney and Hughes with a mixture of fondness and awe (or at least I do), but who’s to say the next generation won’t feel the same about today’s poets.

And finally, in honour of Simon Armitage’s daily Hayku (geddit?) as poet in residence at the festival, here is my own

The Hay Festival

Pours with wisdom and raindrops

Definitely not dry

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