Monday, 14 July 2014

Two Imaginations

"Cambridge Open Studios is a flourishing community of artists, craftspeople and designer-makers working throughout Cambridgeshire. Our aim is to help bring artists and local people together, providing opportunities for the public to visit workshops and studios of people working in a wide range of crafts and media...." said the leaflet which also gave dates and locations for around two-hundred studios in the area which will open their doors to the public at weekends throughout the month of July.

On Saturday I made my way to two studios in what-used-to-be-my-home-village of Grantchester. In this case, as it happens, the artists in question are local people too.

tess recordon

Step in out of the sunlight and into Tess's terraced house which has been transformed into a gallery for the occasion. The walls are lined with her landscape paintings which seem to hover on the cusp between abstraction and reality. These are British landscapes but certainly not the twee, picture-postcard scenes that turn up in so many places. The weather, atmosphere and feel of the land take precedence over any detailed rendition of reality. 

Tess pointed out a print of one of her favourite works, a mountain scene in shimmering, misty greys, "It's a bit of a cheat, really," she said, "I was on the Island of Mull but the weather was rubbish and it didn't really look much like that - but that was how it felt to be there!"

I went out through the back door, down the garden and into her studio. Just inside was a table strewn with painting materials, ("It's not usually as tidy as this!"), which included a selection of brushes. These are only used for mixing the paint, the preferred method of applying it to the canvas being to pour it on and let it run down, or else flick or dribble the paint on to the surface.

The walls bore vivid evidence of the technique! She then builds up layer upon layer of paint to give the final effect. When thin layers are applied the previous ones show through, though even when they are completely hidden they still have an effect on the finished result. OK, I'm not sure I really understood that, but I can't argue with the fact that these pictures have a depth and resonance which is otherwise hard to explain.

Despite the limitations of my photography I hope the detail above gives you some idea of how the overlapping layers build on one another. Or maybe we should really move back a few paces...

The view's an interpretation of Loch Torridon in Scotland, one of those magical moments that etches itself deep on the memory but then is gone forever - unless you are blessed with the ability to preserve it with oil paint. 

elspeth owen

A little further down the road one is invited to slip through a hole in the hedge and into the surprising world of potter Elspeth Owen. Elspeth inhabits an old wooden building which in a former lifetime was Grantchester cricket pavilion.

You pass the bicycle leaned against the logpile and go around to the front of the building which nowadays lurks amongst trees and vegetation.

I climbed the wooden steps for the first time in over forty years - and what were the ceramicist and her visitor discussing - cricket! Inside there were displays of Elspeth's pots nestling among found items and natural objects collected on walks, pictures, faded newspaper cuttings and a splendid collection of cobwebs! Everything seemed to have arisen organically and naturally, then settled comfortably down together.

Something clattered unexpectedly. Elspeth looked briefly alarmed but, once satisfied that it wasn't one of her pots which had crashed to the ground, she concluded that it must have only been a mouse. "Would you like to see some mouse-sculptures?" she asked and produced some walnut shells which had been artistically fashioned by a rodent intent on devouring the nourishment within.

Her pots have an ancient, rough-hewn appearance and seem to have been created by some long-lost civilisation. And maybe they have; everything about this place seems to hark back to a former time when time passed more slowly but to more purpose.

These "moon dishes" not only look as old as civilisation but also as fragile as eggshell. They also link to one of Elspeth's "projects": buy one and you can have it delivered by hand to any address in Britain or Ireland. She will spend the next year "unhitched from all push-button and on-off devices" delivering these and returning each full moon to celebrate beside the River Cam.

Nostalgia forced me to take a peek into the Home team changing room where the above installation was waiting for me.

Then it was outside again where artist and her public were engaged in a discussion about the correct name of a flower which had decided to self-seed and flourish in this secluded corner of England.

Take care.

I hope I'm not too far off target with what I've written above. If either of the artists should stumble upon this page and disagree with me they are welcome to comment and put me right!
For the rest of you here are the artists' own websites so you can check out their own words:

To see more of Tess Recordon's British Landscapes

And Elspeth Owen's pots:


  1. Ooh, I love those paintings. So atmospheric and an interesting technique too. I only really wish I was rich when I see original art!

  2. most enjoyable; I so enjoy seeing what people create in their own special way. Carole, at

  3. I like that photo of her tubes of paint in the tray. The potter's pieces are real neat. The painter's pieces are good too but I like her studio wall drippings just as well.

  4. Totally and completely different artists in every way and yet how beautiful their work is John. We have similar things up here in the Dales, but not usually by artists of this quality.

  5. I really enjoyed this look into the artists' spaces and art and how they are related kind of jumped out at me. I just love this line: "Everything seemed to have arisen organically and naturally, then settled comfortably down together." That's how I like my home but I never put it into words that way!

  6. I can't imagine how Tess Recordon manages to produce such wonderful paintings using the technique described. The close-up painting is stunning.
    The "ancient pots" are lots of fun. Hand delivering them is a great excuse for a cup of tea and a good chat.

  7. I love open studios! It's such a warm and wonderful way to see local art. The close-up painting is truly beautiful. I could imagine the scene that sparked that work. The ceramics are wonderful and the atmosphere there perfect for the work.

  8. I've never heard of open studios before but what a great idea it is, very interesting to take a peek at the spaces and art of these artists.

  9. I enjoyed that tour. Some great art and a super look behind the scenes

  10. It is lovely to see how an artistic and creative mind interprets their work onto a canvas or into a piece of pottery. Great pictures John and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

  11. John -- all your photos on this post have great composition showing off the environment of the artists as well as some of their art. elspeth owen's decor and work stunned me with its natural beauty. I too surround myself with nature in and around my place. "Nature is the standard for truth is beauty" from Mind of the Raven by Heinrich" thanks -- barbara

  12. I love Tess Recordon's interpretation of what she sees! And Elspeth Owen's studio seems magical to me, or perhaps it's the way you photographed it. I would enjoy visiting both studios! And I will be checking out the links you've provided.

  13. Wonderful photos to compliment this post. Magical worlds these artists live in and you captured them beautifully.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).