Leonora’s Death Bird in the Valley of the Shadow of Elisabeth Frink


As the deadline for the Knitting Time exhibition approaches I am making final adjustments to detail; colouring drawings; making linocuts and finishing a series of large oil paintings. I’ve relished the opportunity Knitting Time has given me to make big paintings again.

Leonora’s Death Bird is part homage to the work of Leonora Carrington. She made her paintings of fantastical landscapes glow from the inside out with a visceral luminosity I’ve never seen any other painter be able to emulate. My painting, to a minor extent, references her vision of a world inhabited by strange half human, half animal creatures.

Leonora Carrington famously always refused to talk about any interpretation she placed on her work. Interpretations change over time and people will always see what they want to see; so in that sense the artists’ interpretation lacks validity. However, historically I think the precedent that artists of note have taken to not talk about their work as a personal narrative, and to only let it be talked about in a generic, highly stylised language, has simply served to undermine its appreciation. And maybe that is why ‘artists of note’ often seem to lack any creative spark. You see the same idea regurgitated rather than sense that they are creating something that really means anything to them.

I personally like to know the artists interpretation of the making of an artwork and of what it means to them from the viewpoint of an autobiographical journey. That was the thing I really liked about seeing David Hockney’s retrospective at the Royal Academy last year. The audio guide conveyed his passion for what he did, as well as giving a descriptive narrative of the works, making it memorable.

I really appreciate it when people take the time to ask straightforward, probing questions – as I experienced on holiday last week where I showed some of these images. The interest various individuals took, sparked some wonderful conversations, which is really what it is all about at the end of the day.

And that is why I’ve gone to some lengths to work with sound artist Joseph Young to create an audio piece which shares something about the making of the work and context of the narrative it tells – as well as describing the work itself. I think it is an innovative approach to creating an audio-description, which is specifically meant to both be an additional artistic experience for an audience as well as providing a way in to seeing the work for people with a visual impairment. Joseph and I have worked hard on finding a balance, integrating three aspects of the narrative: what’s in the image, what was involved in the making of the image, and story behind the image itself.

Once the exhibition gets installed at the beginning of October, I’m intending to share the audio-artworks I’ve commissioned Joseph to make on this blog.