It’s currently week two of my journey in the AberForward programme, so I’m aware I’m a little late with my blog entries – I’m sorry! But being here, back in the place I love and where I was at my happiest, some thoughts have arisen.
I can honestly say that deciding to go to Aberystwyth University, to the School of Art, was the best decision I have ever made. The support you receive from the staff, students, past and present, artists and other connections you make, is unlike any other experience I’ve ever known; you have a family here.
Upon leaving university, I had secured a full time job, and in the months that followed I bounced back and forth from one job to another. Even though I was grateful for the experience, they had no relevance to my degree and what I wanted to work towards.
When I received my letter in the post to tell me of this opportunity, I didn’t have to think twice and I can finally say that I have a job that I love! I have plans now that are becoming more realistic by the day. I’m training to be an Assistant Curator here at Aberystwyth and when I leave will assist at Mid Wales Art Centre in Powys as well as start as a Bank Health Care Assistant at Machynlleth Hospital in Powys. This should give me enough experience to apply for an MA in Art Therapy. I’m going to re-take my maths GCSE as well so that I can sit for my PGCE. I should have put all this in the introduction, but I feel it is important to express not only to students and staff but to anyone who might be reading this, that you should take any golden opportunity that is given to you. And for any prospective student thinking about coming to the School of Art: You will not find a more supporting university.
So with that in mind it’s time to talk about my first week in the School of Art.
Week 1 Part 1
Sorting through Erich Retzlaff’s negatives was such an honour; I’ve admired his portraiture skills ever since Christopher Webster van Tonder introduced me to his sadly neglected work. Retzlaff experimented with the extremely innovative Agfa colour films of the 1930s. He captured strong and powerful studio portraits, whilst cataloguing portraits of the German working class. Throughout my second and third year at university, I focused mainly on portraits and Retzlaff was a huge inspiration for those images. He created honest and dramatic photographs, which encouraged me to photograph my own truths.
The first album was full of 35mm negatives that took nearly the entire first week to scan through. The images were taken in Rome and, we think, Venice. They are of architectural structures; some are dynamic and interesting with dark shadows cascading over buildings, whereas others had a typical tourist-y feel to them, e.g. of a man simply enjoying his vacation. I’m excited to see what the rest of the albums contain. Once Emily and I have finished scanning them, we will be able to go through them all and see in depth what his thick folders were made up of. “Erich Retzlaff was considered by the National Socialists something of a pioneer in his idealised depictions of the German proletariat, disseminating notions centred on the people’s community.” (Dr Christopher Webster Van Tonder, Erich Retzlaff Volksfotograf). I can’t wait to see more of his work.
In between scanning Erich Retzlaff’s negatives, I spent the majority of my time up at the Aberystwyth Art Centre Ceramic Gallery, looking at and taking down Anna Noël’s exhibition Telling Tales. For the first couple of days, I took close up shots of the objects, making sure to get in every detail of the hard work Noël had put into them.
I really liked the small details that Noël creatively sculpted into these ceramics. I myself have never really experimented in pottery even though it is something that fascinates me. I found my calling in photography; portrait photography is my favourite. However, from photographing these sculptures I found great enjoyment in object portraiture. It is something that is not advertised when you discuss careers in photography, but there is a huge demand for this sort of work. From working with Noël’s ceramics, I have become passionate about digitally cataloguing artwork. Just like any other subject, it needs a platform to stand upon and, when done right, it should entice and interest the potential audience to want to come and see the artists’ work. Now I’ve waffled on about object portraiture, I should get back to Noël’s fantastic sculptures.
Anna Noël was born in Swansea, South Wales and lives on a farm on the Gower Peninsula. She specialises in non-functional, figurative, raku ceramics, which are usually of animals. For those who do not know of the raku technique, I shall explain with the help of my trusty book The Potter’s Bible edited by Marylin Scott. The term raku is derived from the Japanese, meaning enjoyment or happiness (already it’s off to a good start!). Raku is described as being the most exciting of all the firing techniques; it is used as a decorative medium more than a utilitarian method because raku-fired pots are porous. Raku pots are given a normal bisque firing of up to 1000°C before being glazed and placed into a raku kiln. After about 20 to 30 minutes, the glazes will have melted and the pots are removed with tongs. They will be red hot and glowing from the kiln where they are usually placed in drums of wood shavings. The pots undergo strong thermal shocks because of the rapid changes of heat. This causes the glaze to reduce whilst smoke enters the clay and increases the crackle. Electric kilns are not suitable in the process of raku; coal or wood were the traditional methods of firing raku. Thankfully, due to modern materials, kilns such as gas-fired brick kilns, top-hat kilns and fibre-lined wire mesh kilns are now used. So, that’s the process involved in making Noël’s fantastic dream like sculptures. Her work translates and reminds me of childhood illustrations that I had seen in stories told to me when I was young. I have found her sculptures to be quite endearing and I’m sad that I only got to experience a few short days with her work since my placement. However, knowing that I’ve personally handled many of these sculptures and appreciated all of the features in her work makes me extremely lucky to have been given this position and opportunity.
I’ll be posting again soon, continuing my stories from week one. I shall discuss the proper way to unpack and pack up a ceramics exhibition, which I learnt from Pete Goodridge the founder of Art Works Wales, including images taken on the day. I will also discuss the images I have found in Retzlaff’s collection, and prepare you for the exciting week I’ve had in week two.
Bye for now everyone!