On a grey day in July 2022, my family and I loaded a solid paper ball, weighing 16.5kg and with a girth of 115cm, onto an old pushchair and boarded an LNER train heading north from York. It fitted surprisingly well underneath the train table and behaved itself there, not getting many strange looks. Encyclopaedia Ball is my project to convert an entire set of 1950s Encyclopaedia Britannicas into a solid papier mache ball, page by page, A to Z (see my earlier post). A tradition has grown up of celebrating each new letter of the alphabet reached, involving things (usually food) and people beginning with that letter. When the ball reached ‘G’, my wife suggested the idea of taking it on a trip to Glasgow, and so I reached out to Glasgow artist duo Gardner and Gardner to see if they would like to be involved. I thought maybe we could roll the ball in Glasgow with the Gardners. It was the first time the ball had been on a jaunt like this and the first time I’d rolled it, except round the garden to see the flowers when it was covered with colour plates of flowers from the article on flowers. On that occasion, it had got covered in sap.
The following day, also grey and threatening drizzle, we pushed the ball in the pushchair up the steep hill to Glasgow School of Art, where I studied in the late 1990s. I noted with sadness that the carved stone head of Beethoven was missing from the old piano store building on Renfrew Street and that the building looked more derelict than it did when I lived in Glasgow. I’d envisaged photographing the ball beneath the massive august ball of Beethoven’s head and now wished I could think of a way of placing my ball instead on Beethoven’s still extant shoulders. The art school was also a ruin, of course, the famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh building having been gutted twice by fire during the past decade. It was sad to see nothing more than a scaffolding sarcophagus holding up a fragile shell which you could barely see. It reminded me of the sarcophagus they built round the burnt out reactor at Chernobyl. The site of the art school was utterly cheerless (we were outside of term time, so the other school buildings were deserted as well).
Nevertheless, we met the Gardners and our other friends beside the Vic bar and the whole group of us started the roll. It was somewhat terrifying to pose for photos with the ball in the middle of Scott Street – a street so steep that releasing the ball down it would have caused catastrophe down on Sauchiehall Street below. Peter Gardner and I did most of the rolling, with help from others. I had planned a route for us to roll the ball, but hadn’t given any thought at all to how to actually roll it. Did it need to be rolled by hand, which meant bending over all the way? That quickly got tiring and we defaulted to kicking it. Neither of us were football players. Once up the slope of Scott Street and onto the level or gentle downward slope of Hill Street it was more of a matter of shepherding it with our feet. The ball got bits of gravel embedded in it and became pock-marked, but didn’t start to disintegrate, as I’d feared. We avoided urine as best we could.
The ball admired the view at the end of Hill Street over Charing Cross, Park Circus and the M8 motorway. The slope and steps down from Garnethill to Charing Cross were negotiated (by us) backwards. Here the ball needed restraint and guidance, rather than encouragement. It cracked fallen cherry stones audibly as it rolled over them. I wondered if the drop from one step to the next would be enough to crack the paving slabs, but sadly it wasn’t. The ball made a solid thud, thud, thud. Peter and I were cautious in not allowing the ball to gain momentum – reviewing the footage it looks like we are treating it as something delicate, like teaching a child to walk. I was just scared of it rolling loose and taking somebody off their feet or bouncing onto the motorway slip road and caving in the bonnet of someone’s car. In the footage we seem overly cautious, like anxious parents.
Over the Charing Cross footbridge. Here the children with us had to be kept sustained by gingerbread men that I bought for our picnic and we nearly picked some American tourists up in our wake; if only they’d had more time. We got some good photos of the ball with traffic on the M8. The level pavement of Woodside Place was home stretch and even my son had a go. The ball was still in good nick and I was disappointed that it wasn’t dirtier. I think that rolling the ball with Peter gave focus to our walk and conversation. Each of us had a job to do keeping it from rolling off on our side and it required concentration and team work. Someone else made sure that we didn’t get run over by a silver van when we crossed Elderslie Street. The gentle slope and wide open spaces of the park allowed us to relax and I let the ball roll on ahead down the path between weedy herbaceous borders, greatly upsetting a leashed Rottweiler dog.
We picnicked near the elaborate fountain, no longer functional, which commemorates the Lord Provost who established Glasgow’s first permanent supply of fresh water. Enid Blyton style, I’m obliged to list what we partook of: gammon (aka ham); guacamole, gorgonzola, gouda, gruyere, goat’s cheese, grapes, grapefruit juice, guava juice, goji berry juice, fruit gums, gherkin (cucumber), gingerbread men, garlic crackers, gooseberry jam (which we forgot to eat), Gujarati mix, giraffe bread (aka tiger bread), Greek yoghurt. Mariuca, one of our friends, made a paper collage on the ball which included fragments of what later turned out to be a valuable edition of The Hobbit. Thus ended the Rolling of the Ball. Later in the day we posed the ball between the paws of one of the great carved lions in George Square and accidentally left our suitcase nearby, only retrieving it, miraculously and with much stress, from Glasgow City Centre Police Station, unexploded, with minutes to go before our train home. The ball was tired but (I think) happy after its day out, and slept like a dog under the train table.
The Ball between the paws of the lion in George Square.
Map Jacket is a jacket made from paper maps, with objects relating to walks and journeys stowed in its pockets. It is an ongoing artwork, with no final finished state in mind; it will continue to accrete and change for as long as I’m able to go out for walks. Conceptually, it will continue to change as well. I began the piece in Spring 2016. My initial idea was to make a wearable jacket out of Ordnance Survey maps, patterned on a corduroy jacket of mine, and perhaps use it in some kind of performance. It quickly became apparent that the jacket was much too fragile and inflexible to wear. I wore it once before I added the sleeves, but once the sleeves were on it became impossible to wear it without destroying it. The jacket took about three years to complete, because I abandoned it as hopeless for long periods of time. Gluing the sleeves on was particularly vexing, because paper does not stretch and form compound curves like fabric will.
Some time in 2019 I revived the piece and conceived of the idea of using it as a repository for objects found on walks. The jacket would stay at home, but conceptually travel with me. Since then, I have secreted objects in the jacket, adding a new pocket for each object, or group of objects. Some objects and natural materials are attached directly to the jacket. The objects function as mementos of particular walks or places, but most of them are artworks in their own rights, being altered from the form in which they were when found. Sometimes, things found at one place and time are combined with those found at other places and times (nothing is wasted), but each object has one principal association.
Finding things for Map Jacket is a gentle art, which I’m not sure I have come close to perfecting. It requires walking with the right sort of attentiveness. I usually bring back more things than I can use. Sometimes I make the object shortly after the walk; sometimes it takes weeks or months for an idea to form itself of what to do with the assortment of things I’ve collected. Many of the objects I make involve words – they often have words written or inscribed on them – and collecting words is also a part of my walking practice. I carry a notebook and more often write than draw (though I do both). Both practices (collecting objects and words) are about treasuring and memory.
Most of the walks commemorated in Map Jacket took place on the North York Moors, Yorkshire coast, Cheviot Hills and a small number of other places. These are the places that have been accessible to me, particularly in the years of the pandemic. They are places that I go to find solitude and often have associations with landmarks of one sort or another (churches, stone crosses, standing stones, tumuli, crossroads etc.) They are also often places where death is close to the surface, where bones lie to be picked up. The walks themselves are a kind of melancholy ritual, because they are fragments pointing to an elusive wholeness snatched from a life embedded in routines which, while not devoid of their own meaning or rewards, are nevertheless characterised by frenetic striving. I have the feeling that Map Jacket is a work that is only in its infancy and that its strength will lie in engendering inner dialogues.
This page documents the progress of Map Jacket and all of the objects in it. I’ll keep it up to date with new objects. Scroll down for images and descriptions of all the objects in Map Jacket.
Objects in Map Jacket
Main buttons, top to bottom:
Made from a plastic buoy found at the coast
Lead button from a baptismal gown
Made from a broken vehicle number plate found on Rudland Rigg 17 June 2021
Bearing roller and glass bead
Bearing roller from my car, which I picked up beside the A66 near Appleby-in-Westmorland when the back bearing collapsed on the way back from Scotland, September 2018. The RAC man took the wheel off and several slightly flattened rollers dropped out. I picked up three but lost the other two. Afterwards, I was often paranoid that it would happen again and to this day listen out for the odd sound of a collapsed bearing whenever I drive. The roller is sealed into a small map paper pouch with a small glass replica Anglo Saxon bead near the left collar of Map Jacket. The bead symbolises hope. The pouch has the word ‘ruin’ on it in two places.
Fat Betty Cross
Cross-shaped candle, modelled after the medieval moorland cross known as Fat Betty Cross, North York Moors, made from two wax tea lights found at the nearby Young Ralph Cross. Wax has earth from Howl Moor and white pigment incorporated. Contained in a small drawstring bag made from a baseball hat found beside the Lyke Wake Walk path on Wheeldale Moor.
Candles and hat found on a walk from Goathland to Rosedale Head and back, 2nd July 2019. Earth collected on Howl Moor, near Goathland on 5th July 2019.
Young Ralph Cross
Cross cut from a piece of thick rusty steel found on the road near Goathland during a circular walk which took in Lilla Howe and Goathland, 1st July 2019. Modelled after Young Ralph Cross. The shiny metal edges have dulled since it was made.
Ana Cross Jaw
Lower mandible from a sheep with the shape of Ana Cross, North York Moors, cut out of it. Mandible was found close to Ana Cross during a walk on Spaunton Moor, 5th July 2019.
Book of Spurn
Book made from materials gathered on a trip to Spurn Point, 17th August 2019. Materials are: aluminium (from a wrecked aeroplane?); painted plywood from a hoarding which was painted with waves and sea creatures; rubber from a seaman’s glove; plastic; seaweed attached to a stone. Bound with copper wire found elsewhere.
55°31’56.0″N 2°12’26.0″W and 55°35’09.7″N 1°39’44.3″W
Boat made from fragment of a blue plastic sheep feed bucket found on top of the Cheviot Hills during a figure-of-eight shaped walk starting at Town Yetholm and following sections of the Pennine Way and St Cuthbert’s Way, early September 2019. (It was found on the St. Cuthbert path close to where those two paths cross). The boat is attached to a sea-worn piece of plastic found on the beach at Seahouses, early September 2019. I was reading the Kalavala during the holiday during which both objects were found and also visited Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta garden, so boats were on my mind. You can see the sea from a point close to where I found the blue plastic and it is also very close to the England/Scotland border. The St. Cuthbert Way ends at the sea and also unites the two countries. Both objects were found in England.
Piece of scuffed plastic vehicle trim picked up on a linear walk along Westside Road, Rudland Rigg, 16th November 2019. I inscribed a short section of the trim with a map of the route, including contour lines and tumuli. The long piece of trim reminded me of the linear nature of the walk. I did the walk on a misty day and walking through the group of large round barrows was eerie and stayed in my mind. The tumuli are represented by small drill holes. I made the piece on the 8th April 2020.
Tees Mouth Cage
Plastic cage (possibly intended for suspending solid disinfectant inside the rim of a toilet bowl) containing a short length of barbed wire. Both objects picked up during a walk on the north bank of the Tees estuary, 16th January 2020.
Barbed wire barb found next to a freshly cut thorn hedge on Station Road, Ravenscar, during a walk along the Cinder Track from Scarborough to Robin Hood’s Bay, 7th March 2020. Contained in a series of nested pouches. The inner pouch is made from cigarette papers found left as an offering on top of Fat Betty Cross, 5th July 2019. The middle pouch is made from a recycled cashmere wrist warmer found on the Cinder Track on the same day as the barbed wire and the outer pouch is made from a cover for an equestrian helmet, also found on the same day.
Pack of RAW brand cigarette papers with topographic and farm names from Kirkdale inked onto the individual papers. The cigarette papers were picked up at Fat Betty Cross, 2nd July 2019. The names relate to a walk in Kirkdale, 14th August 2020. The pack also has some tear-off gummed paper strips, which have words gathered on my walk written on in pencil. The coordinates are those of the spot on the dry section of the Hodge Beck where I sat writing in my notebook (I may actually have written the words on the gummed paper at that point, I can’t remember. I did definitely make a couple of small drawings on cigarette papers on the spot). I inked the names on the papers in September 2020.
Sheep bone picked up on Pockley Moor during my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020, with words inked on it from my notebook of the day’s walk. The bone has an inked line round it half way along its length, because I intended to cut it in half and take half back to the moors. I never did this.
Third object relating to my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020. It is a flat stone picked up from the dry river bed near St. Gregory’s Minster. It has the name Orm engraved on it. Orm is the Anglo-Scandinavian landowner who restored St. Gregory’s Minster in the 11th century and who is commemorated in the rare Anglo-Saxon inscription above the door of the church. Orm son of Gamel is known from other historical sources and is connected to the feud discussed in Richard Fletcher’s book Bloodfeud. (Richard Fletcher lived in Kirkdale at some point in his life).
Bone for Azazel
Rabbit bone and a piece of dried melancholy thistle found on a walk on 22nd September 2020 around the top of Farndale (from Blakey Ridge carpark to the junction of the track up Rudland Rigg, along the top). They are tied together with red embroidery thread and live in a small metal tin. Piece was made in May 2021. Azazel is a demon associated with desert places in Jewish mythology. The ‘scapegoat’ mentioned in the Bible (Leviticus 16) is actually the ‘goat for Azazel’ – not an offering to appease Azazel, but a symbolic taking of the sin of the people to Azazel in the wilderness/underworld, where it belongs. The piece probably belongs back out in the wilderness, but, for now, it is in Map Jacket. It perhaps represents the melancholy holding onto of the memory of sin, rather than sin itself.
Two ends of sheep rib cut off and joined together. The ribs were found on a walk along College Valley in the Cheviots some time between 5th and 8th September 2020. The piece was made May 2021. Piece lives in the same tin as Bone for Azazel.
Cinder Track Tool and Cinder Track Object
Cinder Track Tool is three hawthorn thorns mounted in the end of a cut-off sheep’s rib, with three dried harebell flowers inserted in a hollowed out cavity in the rib. The thorns and harebells were found on a circular walk from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby along the Cleveland Way and then back along the Cinder Track, 8th October, 2020. The rib came from the College Valley (it’s the same rib as used in Joined Ribs). The Cinder Track is not all that far from the famous Mesolithic site of Starr Carr and Cinder Track Tool reminds me of an archaeological find of unknown purpose.
Cinder Track Object is made from four dried hawthorn berries collected on the same walk as Cinder Track Tool, set into holes in a piece of sheep’s rib found in College Valley. Both pieces were made May 2021.
Piece of ironstone with the word ‘hallelujah’ painted on it in white oil paint. I picked the stone near the Cammon Stone on Rudland Rigg. The Cammon Stone is a prehistoric standing stone and it has the word ‘hallelujah’ carved into it in Hebrew characters, reputedly by the nineteenth century clergyman Rev. W. Strickland, vicar of Ingleby. The walk was from Blakey Ridge along the top of Farndale, across to Urra Moor and then back down Rudland Rigg and finally across Farndale back to Blakey Ridge, 17th June 2021. I made the piece a few days afterwards. The stone is heavy for its size.
I saw a little interview with Anthony Caro yesterday and it struck me for a couple of reasons. Jacques Maritain, the philosopher, said in one of his books that artists aren’t very good at talking about the process of intuition and inspiration in the creation of their art, compared to poets and other writers. This, I guess, is true, because the business of a writer is to put into words things which are difficult to put into words and this gives them their tools to dig beneath the surface of the experience. Artists’ reflections begin and end outside of the realm of words. In the interview with Anthony Caro, I liked the fact that the language he used to explain the process of the creation of his sculpture Early One Morning were all very down-to-earth and humble. He said that he wanted to make a sculpture that was ‘stretched out’ and ‘like a dance’, not like a ‘block’. That’s good. That’s fair enough. That’s as far as it goes. But why did he want to make a sculpture that was ‘stretched out’? Doesn’t matter. He also painted it red because it didn’t look very good green and his wife suggested painting it red. I find it takes a bit of confidence to admit that one’s reasons are sometimes very simple (maybe it took less in the 1960s – it seems to have been in many ways a much simpler era in art than now, or, at least, it seems that way to one born later, like me).
I’ve just been messing on looking at gallery websites and reading artists’ statements. None of them say things like ‘I wanted to make something stretched out’, or, ‘I painted it red because my wife told me to’. Why not? Why shouldn’t we admit that art is simple, in a way? I think it’s a sign of lack of confidence that the language of art (especially artists’ statements and gallery press releases) seems to have to hang on the coat tails of academia and adopt some of it’s tone (‘My work is an investigation into…’).
Artists’ intuition is something that interests me a lot (I have a confession: I just do things because they come into my head and seem right). That’s why I like Jacques Maritain’s writing on poetic intuition, because it allows there to be something going on below the surface (in the pre-conscious), which is hidden from you (why do certain things come into my head and not others and what makes them seem ‘right’?). The problem is that it is very difficult to know if what he says is really true, but at least it chimes with my own experience.
The other thing I liked about the interview was that he made the sculpture in a one-car garage. Wow, I work in a one-car garage! There’s hope yet! I like the colour red, too. Might paint something red.