Blog, Exhibitions

We Will Walk

Art and resistance in the American South

Turner Contemporary Margate 7 February -3 May 2020

Ralf Griffin Eagle from Found Wood, nails, paint
Griffin made his work from tree roots from the banks of Poplar Root Branch, the small creek behind his home. The works were created to sit outside his yard, visible to passers-by

The work in this extensive exhibition is by African American artists in the American South during the second half of the twentieth Century to present day. 

         Slavery and segregation shaped the rural and industrial economies of the South and created a regime of racial terror. Much of the art in We Will Walk was made within this context.

         Produced in outdoor yards, the work takes many forms, from ephemeral environments made from salvaged materials to sculptural assemblages, paintings, musical instruments and quilts.

         In the segregated South, creators drew on black Southern cosmology, musical improvisation, American history, African traditions and more recently popular culture as materials for their work.

Blues and Spiritual music were exported from the South to the rest of USA and beyond. The art in We Will Walk can be seen as a visual equivalent of this musical improvisation but has been overlooked until relatively recently.

Annie-Mae Young with quilts and her great granddaughter Shaquettein Rehobeth Alabama 1993

         It was during the Civil Rights protests (1954-1968) that  walking, as an act of courage and protest, came to the fore. The title of this exhibition reflects that courage and protest.

To Quote Martin Luther King

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Activists like the writer James Baldwin and the photographer Doris Derby went to the South to bear witness and demand change. Vast communal acts like the historic marches from Selma to Montgomery (1965) started a process of transformation that gradually allowed hidden artistic practices to become viable.

         The exhibition highlights the innovative visual languages created by these artists, their relationship to history, the environment and their influence on American culture. We are in a new era of protest and resistance, even Prince William, at the recent Bafta award ceremony, expressed his frustration at the lack of recognition of diversity within the film industry.

WE WILL WALK presents the extraordinary creativity of artists working outside the mainstream for the first time in the UK.

         My main purpose for visiting this exhibition was to see the quilts of Gee’s Bend, today known as Boykin. For those who haven’t heard of it, Gee’s Bend is a small community located on a former plantation in Alabama. It lies on a spit of land surrounded by the Alabama River. The deeply rural community has become world famous for their unique hand made quilts created by the women for their own use and gradually recognised and collected by outsiders.

Linked to their maker’s history of poverty and hard labour on the cotton plantation, the quilts are made from repurposed materials. They contain abstract visual languages that have been developed in isolation over a hundred years. The ferry that linked Gee’s Bend to Camden, the nearest town, was removed in order to prevent the residents from registering to the right to vote and from voting during the 1960’s and was not re-instated for forty years.

         The quilts are made from used clothing such as blue jeans and football shirts, their materials follow the history of American clothing, as fabrics developed and changed. It was relatively common for plantation owners to name their enslaved workers with their own names, which remain a symbol of a terrible past. Many of the quilters are descendants of people enslaved on the Pettyway Plantation, which is reflected in their names to this day.

         Much of the show draws on the tradition of the ‘Yard Show’, temporary outdoor environments made from salvaged materials.

James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas was a blues musician and sculptor. He sculpted heads from unfired clay dug from local source. His subjects ranged from historical figures to local community members. He also worked as a grave digger and many of his heads include human teeth.

         The exhibition was conceived by, the artist, Hannah Collins, who spent three years researching and developing the show. She is joined by curator Paul Goodwin, professor of Contemporary Art  and urbanisation at University of the Arts London. His particular interest is in fugitive art practices and place. 

         This exhibition is worth seeing, if only as a way to view of recent history. These artists turned impossible circumstances into innovative artworks and still do so today. This is an  excellent, and deeply profound exhibition.

Blog, book review, Book Reviews

Want to create a Country Brocante look? Then this is the book for you.

Just a glimpse into this gorgeous book will affirm Lucy Haywood’s  love of all things vintage, a love that  was inherited from her parents. They spent all their free time at antiques fairs and so she grew up in a home filled with old furniture.

         Her first flat was adorned with antique finds and vintage clothing and she realized that she was drawn to a creative career.

When her daughters were tiny she created a business that would work alongside her role as a mum. She began by hiring out her vast collection of vintage china for weddings and other events. This led to opening first a little shop in Sussex and, then as the business grew, a large, draughty barn, inviting other collectors that she met to sell alongside her. She hosted sales in village halls and gardens, and The Country Brocante was born.

It has grown and evolved from its humble beginnings, and now hosts seasonal fairs at stately homes and estates in Sussex and the Cotswolds. The exhibitors specialize in various different eras and styles – some offer classic French brocanterie, others have a traditional English style, and some a blend of both.

The faded elegance of France and the English cottage charm of vintage china and chintz come together to create a uniquely beautiful look that is, the essence of the Country Brocante style which is captured in this book.

         The book opens with examples of the colour palette, which is oh so instagramable. Examples are given of Pale pinks, Washed whites, Seaside blues and Soft greens.

         As Lucy explains, there is a myth that White is cold hard and clinical. The secret is to search out muted, chalky whites that provide a perfect backdrop for the time worn patina of antique and vintage finds. White-painted furniture only grows more beautiful with age, and when it is teamed with old linen sheets, white sofas and all-white china, the effect is easy, relaxed and lived-in. If you have a collection of mismatching modern pine furniture, invest in a pot of one of Farrow & Ball’s just-slightly-off white shades and give pieces a lick of paint for instant shabby chic appeal.

To create a Country Brocante home using blues, seek out subtle shades from silvery pale blue to faded indigo.

‘Graceful, elegant and feminine, for me pink is the most romantic of colours and effortlessly exudes vintage charm. Even the smallest of details, such as a posy of pink flowers, will bring warmth to an interior’ says Lucy.

When using pinks, If pastel pink feels too sugary, try a rich raspberry shade instead, which looks fabulous against pearly grey or duck-egg blue walls and natural sisal flooring.

Dulux colour of 2020 being Tranquil Dawn a soft green hue inspired by the morning sky, and Lucy waxes lyrical about green. 

What colour could be more reminiscent of the rolling English countryside than green? It brings to mind the exterior of an old garden shed, lichen and moss growing over a weathered stone garden ornament, or a simple green bucket holding roses just picked from the garden. But green is for indoors as well as

out. There are so many shades that work in a country-style home, from faded sage to olive to sea foam. Just keep your shades subtle and sludgy and you can’t go far wrong. At the Country Brocantes, a keen eye will seek out the softest, most subtle green pieces, choosing battered enamel buckets and garden chairs to take home and treasure.

          As well as colours the book shows examples of architectural antiques, time worn textures , art, and shows examples of how to work them into your home.The houses included in this book, whether old Suffolk cottages, Georgian farmhouses or modern properties all have in common the inclusion of timeworn objects. There are salvaged shutters and doors, shelving fashioned from old scaffolding boards and pieces of painted furniture still clinging on to their original finish, flaking and peeling though it may be. Despite their age and their state of repair, these items manage to look current, exciting and utterly beautiful in their current surroundings.

What a book! What a look! I highly recommend it, as much for the gorgeous images by Ben Edwards as for the valuable information given by Lucy Haywood.