Artist interview with Nicky Bird

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Nicky Bird, an artist who, among many exciting projects, has been undertaking a Land Mark residency with Art Walk Porty.

Her residency has focused on rediscovering and retelling the lost stories of the Buchan Pottery decorators, using found photographs and oral histories. The project is culminating in two weekends of events/exhibits, including an artist walk, site-specific artworks and a soundscape, which will be played in one of the pottery’s old kilns. Definitely worth a trip down to Portobello, if you needed any further encouragement to visit Edinburgh’s loveliest coastline.

We talked about artistic process, how Bird’s work treads the boundaries between art and heritage, and the importance of place and community in the project. You can read the interview in full here.

This is the first time I’ve interviewed an artist directly, and the process was fascinating. Though much of her work is site-specific, we met in Bird’s studio in Leith, where various projects and works-in-progress are tacked to the walls. She described how she doesn’t always manage to work in the studio – alongside her artist projects she teaches at Glasgow School of Art – but the images that surround her when she returns are good reminders that help her pick up where she left off.

I recorded the conversation and transcribed it into its interview format afterwards, and was reminded of how conversations jump around in a way the written word simply cannot. Though audio interviews, via the radio or through podcasts, are probably more personal and intimate, I liked the procedure of drilling down into our conversation and distilling Bird’s thoughts and motivations into a few paragraphs, though editing while keeping someone’s voice is always a challenge.

This is a new venture for me and I’m hoping it is the starting point for more interviews, written and recorded, which shine a light on the fascinating process of art making. I’m very grateful to Nicky Bird for her warmth and patience, and to Rosy Naylor, Curator of Art Walk Porty, for giving me this opportunity.

Nicky Bird in her Leith studio

Ivon Hitchens, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

I’ve been meaning for a while now to write about a lovely, focused exhibition I saw at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last week. I’d never been to the gallery before, and unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore its permanent collection, which is based around modern and contemporary British art – I’m looking forward to exploring that the next time I go.

So many important creative people of the twentieth century, including members of the Bloomsbury Group, the poet Edward Thomas and visual artists like Eric Ravilious, seem to have been drawn to spend time in Sussex at some point in their lives, so it makes sense that this Sussex gallery represents some of the most important artistic developments of the last century. While Ivon Hitchens (who I hadn’t heard of before seeing the show) isn’t someone who rewrote the rulebook of modern art, his work shows a talent for noticing and capturing the remarkable detail within the big picture, the abstract patterns he experimented with in his early career continuing playing a major part in the landscapes he is primarily known for today.

The Celadon Bowl (1936)

Some of my favourite of his works were early ones like The Celadon Bowl (1936), in the way that it delicately treads the line between abstraction and figuration, the scrubby brushstrokes of the teal and khaki squares in the backdrop adding texture to the plain white canvas. In a sketchbook annotation, he wrote “don’t try to find a picture. Find a place you like and discover the picture in that”, which is true of every setting he painted, interior and exterior.

Woman playing the piano, c.(1942)

He left London during the war, and lived in a caravan called Greenleaves with his wife and their baby, set in a forest clearing. Living in the heart of the countryside clearly gave Hitchens more than enough subject matter for his art, and he set about painting the landscape, not focusing on grand vistas, but on his favourite spots that he visited repeatedly, capturing the view in different seasons and at times of day.

I love the Sussex countryside and have enjoyed walking on the South Downs, in the woods and by the rivers that Hitchens lived alongside, and so I may be biased, but I found his landscapes very evocative and able to capture the magic of the place. Perhaps there’s something in the water that makes it special.

Winter Walk, no.3 (1948)

Winter Walk no.3 (1948), really captured me. The earthy brown and scratchy red tones, mixed with the evergreen of the avenue of pine trees towards the right of the picture perfectly sum up the colours of winter which are beautiful too, in their muted way.

The theme of the exhibition, how artists use their works as an exploration of their surroundings and of place more generally, was underpinned by the audio element of Simon Roberts’ Inscapes exhibition, which were dotted throughout Hitchens show. Roberts is an artist-photographer whose work focuses on identity and people’s connections with the landscape around them, and as part of the exhibition was invited to revisit the settings that so fascinated Hitchens. His soundscapes of the countryside (cattle lowing, brooks babbling, branches creaking in the wind) brought Hitchens’ landscapes to life in new ways, and the pairing of the two artists’ work brought out the best in both of them.