Though it may sometimes be true that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’, boredom and stopping still are powerful and necessary gaps in our lives. A simple roundup of the day turned into a philosophical discussion with a thirteen year old a couple of days ago.
Unprompted, his thoughts on boredom really surprised me. I expected him to download a torrent of disappointments - what things hadn’t been done, why he hadn’t been taken somewhere, but instead the summary was this. It is the result you hope for but never sure you will get rewarded with. Children constantly provided with solutions, external stimulation and narrow entry points to using their imagination by linking to well known characters (‘disney-fication’) could find their own creative capacity gets stifled. That’s not to say all the outcomes are perfect, but that they are conjured up from inside.
“I know I’ve been offered to go places and do things. Sometimes I get really cross with myself when I haven’t done things - things I should have done. Then I get really bored, but I’m really glad I get the chance to go through that because it makes me think what to do next. I get my most imaginative ideas then and it makes me excited. It makes me want to get things out and start making or sketching”.
Understanding the underlying system and working out the processes that enable you to achieve the path to success, however you define it, is fundamental in learning to do anything beyond just good enough. Music, art, pottery, physical fitness, whatever you choose. When it comes to Indian classical music, unlocking the little pieces helped demystify the very fast renditions of notes I listened to, of which you can hear a few at the end.
The seven notes in an octave are known as Swar in Indian classical music. Specific combinations of these swars, performed in prescribed ascending and descending scales, make up a raga. Each raga has its own grammar and nuances such as emphasis on a particular note, which give it its unique character. Particularly in North Indian classical music, a musical performance can or will have an element of improvisation, but always within the confines of the raga’s grammar.
Swar sadhana - the discipline or devotion to the pursuit of finding the perfect rendition of swar, is undertaken through regular riyaaz or practice, often under guidance. Exercising the vocal chords and muscles is executed through patterns of notes, sometimes in pyramids and sets, at times in different tempos - often some of those exercises look like those for training your whole body in physical exercise. Importantly, it’s not just about practicing a popular song and singing it really really well, but more about building your core to be able to do everything else really well by having more units of ability to orchestrate and improvise with. Similarly, people turn up to throw a perfect pot on the wheel straightaway, I am guilty of that ambition, whereas it can take time, patience and application to get to that place. Musicians who take this practice very seriously may eventually go through a chilla - forty days and nights in isolation doing nothing but practice and pure focus on the pursuit of excellence with no distractions.
Traditionally, the learning has been through oral tradition in a guru-shishya relationship, where the teacher guides and hones the skills of his or her shishya (pupil) or shagirdi (disciple) in a particular school of music called a gharana.
Nowadays, particularly in the West, physical access to such gurus can be difficult, therefore those relationships can be more disparate and fluid. Ironically however, the internet and technology - which could be regarded as an impersonal connection, can enable this relationship to be even more longer lasting and personal by enabling people to stay more connected not only via social media and the likes of Skype, but also by having ready access to performances on YouTube etc. to follow, compare and learn.
I was taught my groundwork by Nitai Dasgupta in North London, following a chance introduction to his daughter several years ago. Sadly he passed away a few years ago, and I’ve had fits and starts of all sorts since. The importance of a good teacher or mentor cannot be overlooked, and I have chosen to bypass many opportunities in the meantime. However, when I first moved to Northampton, a random find on the internet led me to tabla player Jagdeep Mudan, through whom I have now been introduced to Harkirat Kaur and now Kankana Banerjee whilst on tour. Bizarrely, both Nitai Dasgupta and Kankana Banerjee knew each other, having shared some tutelage themselves!
This is how I recently went through ganda bandhan. It is a ritual marking the acceptance of a student under the guru. An agreement to pass on knowledge by one, and a commitment to learn and practice purposefully by the other. Kankanaji tied the string round my wrist seven times - each circle representing each of the seven swaras - Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni - which are more familiar as Do Re Me Fa So La Ti. I don’t know what my destination is, but I intend to make the most of my journey.
Have a listen:
Kankana Banerjee with her long term shagirdi, Mehram Singh
Parween Sultana, 3 octave queen, who I’ve seen live twice
Shubha Mudgal, has a creative, often modern collaborative approach - seen her live three times, including once at the South Bank with a jazz singer and cuban singer I think - at one point all of them singing their own thing but together, stunning.
Tahira Syed, not into all her work, but heard this on a classical collection, song with a classical basis, one of my all time favourites, never heard her live
It’s always easy to identify with other people by putting them in a box. It’s the way we can connect and understand them. Sometimes it’s like drawing maths subsets and finding the spot in the middle. It is also easy to do it to ourselves too in order to make sense of what’s around us. Some people with a fixed mindset are content to stay in one and put others in one forever too. Others are more fluid and see connections, not always apparent, and shift between seemingly incongruous things. I see my very good friend Grey Gibson in this way.
After months of talking about it, yesterday I finally took the chance to visit her artist studio. The drive was breathtaking across the Rutland landscape, but a little ominous too - the whole countryside was swathed in that beautiful but apparently unhealthy Saharan smog (so I’m told). And what a lovely place to work! Spacious, warm, organised and convenient.
Having trained hard and disciplined in her youth to swim for Great Britain till her late teens, she has transitioned from that to running a marketing consultancy and now to practicing as a fine artist and arts educator. I find her approach to life very healthy and refreshing. For her too, possibilities are endless, so long as you are open to see them.
I first met artist Anne Watt on an Arts Practice course we did together at the uni in 2010. All of us had to present to the others a project we had previously completed. Anne chose to present to us how she, with the occasional help from friends, had a barn delivered from France (I think), planned the whole thing and physically put the whole thing up. I took an immediate liking to this can-do lady and we have remained good friends ever since. She joined me at my workshop several months ago and produced these wonderful tiles.
Today, I had an unplanned meet with her as the itinerant sketcher prepares to embark on new life adventures. As we were chatting about our next steps, she whipped out her sketchbook. Her sketches, they speak much even without her there; I love seeing her on-line posts coming up. She has kept sketchbooks for a long time, but last year, our mutual friends Minnie Teckman and Viv Richards went on the local radio one Sunday morning to chat and sketch along to. https://www.facebook.com/groups/artskillsworkshops/
My poor rendition has not seen light of day since, for good reason I may add. Anne however, has been sketching regularly since.
Her talented sketches have a very unique liveliness about them, and draw you in to whatever she herself has been looking at. I feel myself walking round her place, sitting at the window seat, playing on the piano, collecting wood and even hanging about the mechanics waiting for her car to be repaired!
Her posts online drew the attention of the Sketching Workshop group, limited to 150 people, which she joined by invitation.
There is a great ethos about the group. It invites participants to actively share their comments and feedback on work and asks to be ‘encouraging’ and constructive in their comments. What a healthy approach, very growth and development centric rather than protective, negative and limiting.
I wish Anne well for the future, we parted with the words vignette and static/ dynamic gaining new meaning for me. No doubt she will be posting more of her work on-line. Look out for her.
Lately, I have encountered many people who emphatically express that ‘Art’ is something that should be very representational and painted with strict rules - a landscape, a pretty scene, a human or animal portrait, and ‘Craft’ is something which is made ‘properly’, symmetrically without fault, like a vessel or a nice tile. Everything else is apparently a waste of time.
I am not so black and white about it. I think the former is something that gives you pleasure to look at or experience or which raises your curiosity and interest, maybe even triggers other trains of thought. As for the latter, craftsmanship is only one element, but using materials creatively to express ideas can sometimes be as captivating, sometimes more. It need not be confined to a gallery, or made specifically by someone for displaying and selling, it could just be in the everyday. Occasionally, it is the physical process of making that is equally or more pertinent than the final product.
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of overseeing the Amalgam8 exhibition with fellow artist Katie Ellen Fields. Her work at the exhibition consists of mainly life size painted line portraits (I later found out were self portraits) and a video installation. She is interested in progress and time and her fabric ribbon portrait diary is very original. They were very effective in the gallery in their own right, but I’d noticed something textural in two of hers at the back. From far, the portraits looked like they had been edged with brown/ gold. On close inspection, layers of the material they were painted on had come away revealing the raw underneath.
Apologies for the sideways pictures!
The two paintings were created and then put together while wet. When taken apart, each painting took away part of the other, and made it its own. The work is all about relationships. Though the portraits stand apart as two separate people, they also have parts of each other - shared experience, habits, sentiments; that’s what happens when people are in any relationship - give and take. As organic beings we take and absorb as part of our own what the other gives, willingly or otherwise. I found that quite beautiful.
It also reminded me of the poet Kahlil Gibran, whose poetry my father used to randomly quote parts of when we were young. No scholar of his myself, I have time and again come across the one about marriage, especially the bit about the pillars:
"...But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow. "
If only life could be so poetic.
And a bit on friendship:
.."When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain."
For more on Katie, follow her blog http://howlsofgrace.blogspot.co.uk/ and on Twitter @HowlsOfGrace
I’m on Twitter @nitanathwani and we’re both exhibiting together with six other friends until Oct 5th at
My father has Alzheimer’s. Even during a short visit, I will have to remind him several times who I am. The disease is unforgiving, it robs the sufferer of their due dignity.
It was not always so. My father was a very intelligent, physically fit and mentally agile man. At home, he would always be fixing things, though his projects were never sophisticated or beautifully finished. They were manifested merely to fulfil a function, and invariably the DIY job ended up with wheels on it. It was a standing joke.
And somehow, out of five children, I was always the goafer, mostly willing. Fetching, holding, sorting, fixing. But then, I didn’t often have a choice. I just did it. I’m very thankful for it. Those skills have served me well time and again getting things done without having to wait around for someone else to fix it for me. At times, worryingly. Like when I got fed up waiting and decided to drill holes and put a mirror up, but the light kept switching on and off. It was the light switch meeting a fate that I could have too. That was a few years ago. I blame it on post pregnancy brain.
It is the first day of half term today. The rain has wrecked our plans for various reasons, and somehow we have all drifted aimlessly in and out of a frustrated fog. As the children have grown older, I have made fewer projects with them. We could have been more constructive today. There is an upside though - we chatted. And having expressed annoyance at ‘women generally abusing the feminist movement and thinking all men are pigs’, my sons concluded that I was okay because I ‘get on with things’.
But I was made to promise never, ever to say ‘I’m always happy to get my tool kit out’.
Definitely burnt the candle at both ends. I'm ever so pleased with the new website - completed so far with a knudge in the right direction from the lovely people at http://www.sorbetmedia.co.uk. Do have a look and tell me what you think. I have to add some more sections and photos and turn my photos the right way round, once I find out how.
At this time of year, I am reminded of an occasion when I had overseas visitors at my place in the Fishmarket. A loving couple, and yes, we did a very obvious corny thing. There is a video too, but I won't share that.
O-hhhh, ma ha ha-aa lo~ve, I hun---ger for yo-ho-ho-ho touch....
Go on humour me.
No, I don't offer romantic retreats, but I will have some of these later this week. At the Made in Northamptonshire pop-up shop as well as Hayrack Gallery.
For someone who has no passion for driving, I've certainly packed in the miles recently. With that, and using the kiln, I admit I'm not the greenest person around. Still, I do try and cut down my journeys and those of others as much as possible. Today was such a day.
Kettering bound, I collected my work from the Alfred East Gallery and combined it with gathering pieces from other artists for the exhibition next week at LCB Depot Gallery. Tucking in lovely soft vessels from Carole Miles, headed out to meet Sophie Cullinan for the first time to get her 'inflatable' work. Look forward to opening that up. Quick peek tells me that's pretty safe!
Hanging about between meets, I was rather spoilt for choice. I don't completely deride Costa and Starbucks, coffee's well disguised but it's better than dishwater. But two cafes that didn't bear that name?! Java java cafe or Kafe Bloc, and new vintage one opening very soon at Lollyrocket. What's going on in Kettering? For convenience and curiosity Kafe Bloc won - what a pleasant surprise - a cafe with character! We need something like this in Northampton town too, please.
Then came another pleasant find from a meeting that nearly didn't happen. New entrant Kelly Bull, an ex fashion student showed me some of her pieces - she does knitwear, but mainly her work is using latex - have a look.
The day ended with an interesting textural piece from Melanie King, student at Northampton Uni. Now tired and in great need of sleep, but I'm enjoying this.
'Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.' William Morris
'Janting'. Its a word that appeared in my vocabulary several years ago whilst still in sixth form. I found it on one of my regular visits to the local craft shop to browse, aka purchase yet another tool and more materials that I would surely need to complete yet another project; one day. It looks like this:
An Indonesian tool used to carry hot wax to mask out areas for batik, mine looks pristine clean. Not for years of love and care - but like the fate of so many things, it's never been used. So it was interesting chatting to a family at the demo at the NCCD today - mother and I both admitting to buying fabric stiffening liquid, unused still, and I referred also to this tool. Totally unexpectedly, her teenage son piped in to say 'Oh, I've used this at school' followed by an explanation of how it was used. Inspired, I must now hunt for both things - I know where one is but the other? I think it's in one of the many boxes labelled 'useful stuff' - because I have my very own interpretation of that very famous quote.
I find this a wonderful thing about interactive demos like this - it's a chance to chat to people not only about your work, but about theirs too. Like this very lucky lady here who applied to a callout and has her work in the V&A for a few weeks.
And the musical gentleman who makes incredible paper sculptures out of old books, really inspiring his children at the same time. Not forgetting the family that came by handling all the buttons and beads and finding names for them - loved that.
I had a very satisfying afternoon at the NCCD once again. That journey to Sleaford is becoming rather familiar! How lucky for people living nearby to pop in for a drink and a bite at a place like this.
Nita Nathwani, Ceramic Artist - I thought I'd share stories about my work, experiences, travels, arts and crafts, and the occasional grunt and mumble about merging a craft practice with family life whilst trying to stay fit, healthy and sometimes sane