Sunday, 15 October 2017

Rachel Whiteread's Shy Sheds

Another enjoyable visit with Mrs Shedman to the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at Tate Britain.

Of special interest is the way Whiteread has memorialised and commemorated vernacular buildings like sheds, huts and shacks.

She makes a concrete cast of a building and positions it somewhere unexpected, perhaps difficult to reach. Here they appear from a distance to be actual buildings, only to 'confound expectations' on closer approach.

She calls these 'shy sculptures'.

I like her work and find it very thought provoking. Yet I was slightly disappointed with this exhibition on leaving, feeling I hadn't had enough of the Whiteread magic. But that impression quickly faded as I found myself thinking about the work over the following days.

In Five Things to Know about Rachel Whiteread it's pointed out that whilst the buildings and cast shapes of her sculptures seem familiar, 'more often than not, Whiteread’s casts are of negative space, or the space between, under, or otherwise around things. The space that surrounds and defines an object is what we see in her sculptures...It’s the invisible spaces around us that Whiteread has turned our focus to.'

When we visited the exhibition space was quiet, almost reverential, church- or cathedral-like. The blocks of sculpture and leaning, sometimes ghostly, verticals create the feeling of a mausoleum or graveyard. That's partly due to the atmosphere of the Tate spaces themselves, curiously used as an example in the OED's definition of a mausoleum: 'a cultural mausoleum such as the Tate'!

Her vocabulary rewards study. The origin of the word 'shy' lies in the Old English scēoh '(of a horse) easily frightened', of Germanic origin; related to German scheuen 'shun', scheuchen 'scare'; compare with eschew. The word 'confound' (cause surprise or confusion, prove wrong, defeat a plan, overthrow) stems from the Latin word confundere meaning 'to pour together, mix up,' which is exactly the process Whiteread goes through to make her casts.

I realised as I read more about her work that these shy works hide a tremendous technical skill and proficiency. Whiteread pushed the boundaries of the casting technologies she uses. Yet this remarkable expertise is hidden in each work, like a piece of beautifully written code hidden from view in the simple useability of an app.

Her work appeals to my Shedman instincts in particular, not just because she creates shed-shaped sculptures, but also because one aspect of my own work that itself tends to be hidden is my exploration of the negative spaces left by men. The spaces men shed as they confront challenges in their lives, as they try to move on from a life-changing event or try to be a better person, tackling deeply embedded attitudes, regretted actions, innate reactions. The spaces left when men shed skins or old attitudes, change jobs or, ultimately, cease to be. When people ask me what Shedman is all about, that is the best answer I can give.

As Shedman at festivals and events, I encourage people to write, often in poetry, to express these changes, these sheds, their burn and turn; to write about the shape of their loss and grief, and often, though not always, their pride in trying and often succeeding in creating a new environment of hope, openness and positive action.

The Idol House

An enjoyable trip to Hever Castle and Gardens with Mrs Shedman to see the autumn colours. This childhood home of Anne Boleyn, formerly owned by Sir John Fastolf (the Falstaff of Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts I and II and The Merry Wives of Windsor) isn't a National Trust property as you might expect. It's now owned by a private group Broadland Properties, chaired by John Guthrie, who purchased the Hever estate from the Astor family in 1983.

William Waldorf Astor purchased Hever Castle in 1903. Upon the death of his father in early 1890, Astor inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America. He grew increasingly disenchanted with America announcing that it was ‘no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live’ and in 1891 moved to England with a reputed $100 million. Between 1903 and 1908 Astor set about the restoration of the Castle, construction of the Astor Wing and creation of the lake and gardens. 

The gardens were laid out between 1904 and 1908 by Joseph Cheal & Son. Over 1,000 men worked on the grand design that was the brainchild of William Waldorf Astor. The lake was excavated and constructed by 800 men who were contracted in December 1904 to “carry on the works regularly and continuously by day and night (except on Sundays) when so ordered” and complete the work in two years! The lake was filled in July 1906.

Astor spent 15 years collecting statues, urns, sarcophagi, well-heads and columns when he was American Ambassador to Italy during the late 1800s. 

In 1905 Pickfords Removals brought the collection from Rome by sea to Chatham, and then transported it by road to Hever. A tin shed was temporarily erected to store the antiquities while the Italian Garden was under construction.

Cheal’s men referred to this as Astor’s 'Idol House’ because he went in daily to check his statues of classical gods.

1905-07: Astor’s ‘Idol House’ - the tin shed where the statues and
sculptures were kept while the Italian Garden was under construction.
(Text from the interpretation panels in the Garden Exhibition at Hever and from the Hever Castle website.)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

12 Days of Shedmas

To celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas in 2016, Shedman and brilliant artist Edward Ward came up with the 12 Days of Shedmas, featuring The Big Book of Shed Poetry and poetic sheds around the country. The Big Book of Shed Poetry featuring shed poems old and new is now in development. If you're interested and would like more information please get in touch with Shedman.

On the first day of Shedmas my true love gave to me the Big Book of Shed Poetry...

On the second day...

On the third day...
On the fourth day...

On the fifth day...

On the sixth day...

On the seventh day...
On the eighth day...

On the ninth day...
On the tenth day...

On the eleventh day...

On the twelfth day...

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Much Ado Creative Writing Atelier

You're invited to join fellow writers for this unique series of creative writing seminars. 

Book now—just click on the drop down menu to select your atelier strand.

For the writer, there is no greater joy than to spend some time completely focused on their writing, using all their craft and intelligence to entertain, inspire and communicate.

But almost every writer needs to share their work in a supportive group. Make this your year for writing achievement with Much Ado’s unique Atelier Series. 

Each session will take place in the lovely atmosphere of the atelier workshop room at Much Ado Books, 8 West Street, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5UX.

Poetry and Fiction

There will be two parallel series of atelier sessions, one focused on fiction and the other on poetry. Each strand has been freshly designed by John Davies for the series with an encouraging and inspirational rather than academic approach.

Strand 1: Creating Space for Fiction

14.00-15.30 every Thursday
Fiction Atelier 1   Thursday 4 February
Enticing the audience into your story 

Fiction Atelier 2   Thursday 11 February
Points of view
Who is telling or showing us what they are seeing from their point of view? Where are they standing? What filters their view?

Fiction Atelier 3   Thursday 18 February
What happens inside?
What is going on in the spaces we don't see? How does that influence the space between reader and story? 

Fiction Atelier 4   Thursday 25 February
What happens outside?
How do characters interact? How are locations depicted and brought to life?

Fiction Atelier 5   Thursday 3 March
Objects of interest
What is the role of objects in narrative space?

Fiction Atelier 6   Thursday 10 March
Creating your house of fiction
Where do you go now?
A survey of opportunities and activities that will help a wider public find your fiction.

Book now—just click on the drop down menu to select your atelier strand.

Strand 2: Creating Space for Poetry

16.00-17.30 every Thursday

Poetry Atelier 1  Thursday 4 February
The rooms of poetry
What kinds of spaces does poetry construct?
How can you make some of those spaces your own?

Poetry Atelier 2  Thursday 11 February
Space in poetry
What is the role of space in poetry?
How can you use space to create poems with more impact, entertainment value or feeling?

Poetry Atelier 3 Thursday 18 February
The poetry of spaces 
With reference to contemporary and historical poets we’ll look at how poets help us to reconstruct their imaginative space.

Poetry Atelier 4  Thursday 25 February
Ways of getting into a poem as both writer and reader.

Poetry Atelier 5  Thursday 3 March
Ways of finishing and getting out of a poem as both writer and reader – and ways of getting more out of a poem too.

Poetry Atelier 6   Thursday 10 March
Where can your poetry live?
A survey of opportunities and activities that will help a wider public find your poetry.

Book now—just click on the drop down menu to select your atelier strand.

Your atelier guide

Your atelier leader John Davies has great experience running innovative and fruitful classes with people of different ages and backgrounds — from seniors in Surrey and Sussex, to teenagers in Brighton and Bognor. He is known to many as his poetic alter ego Shedman.

John’s published work includes his pamphlet The nutter in the shrubbery (Pighog 2002, reprinted 2008), a full collection Shedman (2008), Our Storeys – Art and Poetry in Healthcare (2014), co-written with Sue Ridge about their major project at North Middlesex University Hospital, as well as poems in The Guardian, and in many magazines and anthologies.

John is one of the most captivating writers and skilled communicators that any festival, community or school could invite into their lives.” 
Sheila Deegan, Arts Officer, Limerick, Ireland

Just wanted to thank you for your brilliant workshop. Everyone involved really enjoyed it. Thank you for making the day such a success. I will definitely be recommending you.” 
Norah Carr, Brighton & Hove Library Service.

Costs and Payment

The cost of each Atelier Course is £240 per person per strand.

If you wish to attend both strands the cost is £456 per person.

The cost for the usual concessions is £216.00 for a single strand and £420 for the two.

You are asked to register and commit to the full series in whichever strand you choose. Please make payment in full by Thursday 4 February 2016. 

You can also pay by cash or cheque made out to John Davies over the counter at Much Ado Books or  you can pay by cash, card or cheque at the first atelier session.

Book now—just click on the drop down menu to select your atelier strand.

Looking forward to welcoming you to this exciting new series.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A History of the World in 100 Sheds: No 5 The Scriptorium

Shedman is a regular and grateful user of the Oxford English Dictionary online. Today, it's probably the best dictionary in the world and it began life in a garden shed called 'The Scriptorium'!

 Of all those involved with the first edition of the OED, it was James Murray (1837-1915) who made the greatest single contribution. An article in the Scottish Review by editor Kenneth Roy referred to his "single-minded tenacity". Murray was the son of a draper, "born in the village of Denholm, near Hawick, who left school at 14."

Murray started the project working in his corrugated iron Scriptorium, lined with wooden planks, bookshelves and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips. In one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing, Murray asked newspaper readers to report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words” and for words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”. 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium, and by 1882, there were 3,500,000. "The volume of correspondence at the Scriptorium was so great," according to Kenneth Roy, "that the Post Office erected a special pillar-box on the site. Murray worked at the Herculean undertaking for 36 years and died 13 years before the dictionary was finally published in 1928."

Sunnyside, 78, Banbury Road Oxford where Murray built his Scriptorium - with thanks to Cassini Maps Blog
Murray had to obtain permission to build his Scriptorium from St John's College who owned the land. The college refused to allow its erection in the front garden so it was eventually built behind the north of the house, sunk about fifteen feet into the ground in order not to obscure next door's view. The Scriptorium has long since been demolished, but the letter box still stands.


According to Examining the OED Murray's mottoes were " 'Knowledge is power' and 'Nihil est melius quam vita diligentissima' (nothing is better than a life of utmost diligence). He was to pursue these aims with unremitting consistency and fortitude over the course of his long life." More detail on the history of the project and Murray's herculean commitment can be found on the OED's own website.

Murray "conceived of the dictionary as a national project, a co-operative effort, saying, in 1900, 'The English Dictionary, like the English Constitution, is the creation of no one man, and of no one age; it is a growth that has slowly developed itself down the ages' ... Yet, while he saw it as a cumulative evolutionary process, Murray recognised the leap forward that had been taken in his own time: 'It can be maintained that in the Oxford Dictionary, permeated as it is through and through with the scientific method of the century, Lexicography has for the present reached its supreme development'. (Examining the OED)

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A History of the World in 100 Sheds: No. 4 Romulus' hut

Oh, little did the Wolf-Child care--
  When first he planned his home, 
What City should arise and bear
  The weight and state of Rome.
From Romulus and Remus by Rudyard Kipling

At the very begining of the Roman empire, there's a shed. The hut built by Romulus around 753 BC.

In Tom Holland's brilliant Rubicon - The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Abacus 2005 P19-20) he writes:
“Of all Rome’s seven hills, however, the Palatine was the most exclusive by far. Here the city’s elite chose to cluster. Only the very, very rich could afford the prices. Yet, incongruously, there on the world’s most expensive real estate stood a shepherd’s hut made of reeds. The reeds might dry and fall away, but they would always be replaced, so that the hut never seemed to alter. It was the ultimate triumph of Roman conservatism - the childhood home of Romulus, Rome’s first king, and Remus, his twin.
“According the the legend, both brothers had decided to found a city, but they could not agree where, nor what name it should have. Romulus had stood on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine, both of them waiting for a sign from the gods. Remus had seen six vultures flying overhead, but Romulus had seen twelve. Taking this as incontrovertible proof of divine backing, Romulus had promptly fortified the Palatine and named the new city after himself. Remus, in a fury of jealousy and resentment, had ended up murdered by his brother in a brawl. This had irrevocably fixed the two hills’ destinies. From that moment on, the Palatine would be for winners, the Aventine for losers. Success and failure, prestige and shame - there expressed in the very geography of the city, were the two poles around which Roman life evolved.”

Today, signs on the Palatino direct the visitor to the Romulean Huts near the Casa di Augusto.

According to Wikipedia, the original Casa Romuli ("hut of Romulus"), also known as the tugurium Romuli, was located "on the south-western corner of the Palatine hill, where it slopes down towards the Circus Maximus, near the so-called 'Steps of Cacus'. It was a traditional single-roomed peasants' hut, with a straw roof and wattle-and-daub walls, such as are reproduced in miniature in the distinctive funerary urns of the so-called Latial culture (ca. 1000 - ca. 600 BC)."
Funeral hut urns in the Vatican Museum

Carneades, the Greek philosopher thought the Romans ought to go back where they belonged:
“Even the Romans, the masters of the world, if they want to be fair and return what belongs to others, should return to their huts and live in poverty and misery.” Carneades (2nd century - quoted in a display at the Colisseum, Rome.)

More references
"What I find important is that this site is the most direct link we have to that April day so very long ago and that this hut, or one so very like it, gave rise to the massive and sprawling palaces that surround it." Maul Aelius in a thread on Ancient Worlds

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Robert Montgomery pops up posters

After a lot of exhibitions elsewhere, Robert Montgomery’s first London solo show in over a year has opened at KK Outlet.

'Montgomery’s work references the Situationist tradition of capturing the audience’s attention in unexpected ways within the public realm. For his show at KK Outlet Montgomery has created a series of 3 large billboard poems on Old Street, which reference the moral failure of Capitalism, the concerns of the Occupy movement, and new ideas of freedom in the city.'

Good to see the whole thing was sponsored by that arch-enemy of capitalism - Red Stripe (owned by Diageo).

For more information see KK Outlet and the launch night Flickr feed.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

White Sheds

Also at London Art Fair: Joash Woodrow Allotment Trees and White Sheds Oil on board, circa 1980 - 85

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Glorious Shed at London Art Fair

Anyone who's taken a river trip along the Spree in Berlin will have seen the wonderful range of sheds along the river bank, structures whose spirit is reflected in the work of Berlin based artist Gabriel Dubois that Edel Assanti has brought to London Art Fair. (Thanks to Andrew Davies for the link.)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Painted Sheds

For the last few years on his travels, Shedman has been building a compendium of artworks that include sheds. It adds a flavour to his gallery visits.

Last year, Shedman & son visited Berlin for his son's 18th birthday.

Here's a brief review of some of the pictures featuring sheds in the Gemäldegalerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie.

The Dutch Proverbs by Pieter Brueghal the Elder How many sheds?

Asselijn wiederaufbau-muiderdeich

Wiederaufbau des Muiderdeiches by Jan Asselijn

Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) obviously liked his sheds. There's a landscape in the Gemäldegalerie by Bloemaert featuring St Tobias and an angel with a fine shed in the background. But this picture in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (1624), predates The Wire by several centuries and shows a couple out of it on a corner, although the main interest is surely that fine shed tree house.

And finally Caspar David Friedrich with a Cabin covered in snow.

If you chance upon other images of sheds in pictures online or in galleries please send Shedman a link. And don't forget that Shedman is still compiling the anthology of shed poems - so send your favourites through for inclusion.