I love the image of John Clare’s wassail singer telling her winter tale; she’s one of many women whose songs, poems and stories I’m celebrating this season in my new exhibition, River songs in winter, at Woolfson & Tay in Bermondsey Square, near Tower Bridge. In this gallery within a bookshop beside the river, surrounded by books and words and volumes and images, I’ve brought together a collection of river songs from the water’s edge, a winter’s tale of the riverbank.
The Thames is my Ur-river. Most of my life I’ve lived beside it: as a child in the 60’s playing on the toxic concrete shores at Long Reach, and in my teens totally immersed in the green leafy stretches further upriver. My partner the writer Frances Bingham is a lifelong Londoner, and after university we came straight back to London to start our life and work together, setting up our first studio here in 1986.
Later, when we came home again to London after living for a while by the sea, Frances and I stood together on the winter embankment watching a great ship slowly setting off downriver, and felt the tidal force of the river running through our life as it runs through our city. For many years now the most homelike stretch of the Thames for us has been the reach from Waterloo Bridge down to Greenwich, and the river still retains its tidal tug; we hear the river’s voice; we read the river’s words.
Rather as a composer sets poetry to music, I work with fragments of poetry or a flow of words that to me express the essential form and volume of the individual work I’m making, whether it’s a vessel or an artist’s book or a driftwood sculpture. This exhibition includes all three, juxtaposed so that the relationship between the forms is evident:
My work is about containment and connection: the natural materials formed and shaped by water and the cosmic transformation of the fire re-enact the elemental processes of nature that form the earth and our own bodies.
Working with text is a way to examine how the light shows through, how the materials and process are given life and meaning by thought and words. Our artists’ film Riversoup continues this balancing act of text and form with a sequence of still images about constant movement reflecting a poetic text that follows the journey of the tidal Thames from the Pool of London to the sea, and back again.
I always enjoy site-specific exhibitions, where the work relates closely to the showing environment, and the gallery at Woolfson & Tay is a beautiful bookish space, with incidentally a lovely cafe, so that you can sit to contemplate the work in warmth and comfort.
River songs in winter is on from 29th November, throughout December until 8th January 2012, open daily except over Christmas. Please see W&T’s website for opening times and details. It’s a selling show, so you can buy off-the-wall to take away immediately, and as each artwork is a signed original one-off, the show will be changing throughout the month as sold work is replaced.