Containerisation

Hannah Directory is a yearly print publication, website and launch week of events celebrating the great stuff that people are doing in places in England’s north, and asking how even more of it can happen.
It is named after suffragette and rebel Hannah Mitchell, and it finds great stuff happening in music, business, the arts, new kinds of social organisation, scientific discovery and anything else.

I am very proud to be associated with this great project; it all came about through my contribution to a production across four northern cities entitled Wondrous Place, and despite circumstances contributing to me never having met its organiser Andrew Wilson, I have been lucky enough to be involved for three years now, and over the time, my admiration for his passion and organisation has multiplied.

This year’s offering is well timed, given the referendum. I will not use this as a political soap box; my Facebook friends and Twitter follows have done enough of that. Rather, I will just explain how my Hannah project this year celebrates the north as an industrial hub, largely due to EU involvement, and links my creative well to my everyday (rather humdrum) life.

Ever the pragmatist, I realise this may be the last large scale project I undertake for a while.

Creativity has produced other masterpieces – these need my priority, clearly. So, I decided that for 2016 I would document journeys to and from school and continue a line of investigation which began years ago, funnily enough, in school.

My inspirational, though very traditional, art education, taught me painting and drawing skills with a view to creating what my lovely old teacher Mr Jones affectionately labelled ‘chocolate box art’. later, the much more edgy and influential Glaswegian Iain Sloan introduced me to Joseph Cornell’s ‘worlds in a box’, an afternoon tutorial which changed my life forever – and not just because it led to an afternoon wandering up and down Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, hopelessly looking for the house of flotsam and jetsam.

I used to go and look at this one weekly when it was in Tate Liverpool:

Then, of course, my meetings with Sir Peter Blake and Alan Fletcher whose works were often encased in frames or cases, and led to my MA research into ‘opening’ fortune cookies via Shrodinger’s Cat and the notion of introspection. All of this, I realise, is a whistle stop tour of twenty years of artistry, but seems important for first time readers or those who didn’t know this side of me.

I suppose my interest in shipping containers started a long time ago, then, but was only really catalysed by my visit to Naples on my honeymoon and subsequent reading of Comorrah, the excellent explanation of the Neapolitan mafia’s exploits, which starts with a horrific though rather sublime image of a swaying container full of dead bodies. “These were the Chinese who never die,” Roberto Saviano said, and immediately conjured up memories of the unfortunate 23 I had drawn for Hannah two years ago.
The idea of opening, the port, the importing of goods, the change in social and industrial landscape, the movement of workers, the loss of jobs, the hidden produce inside, the smuggling of people, drugs, worse: all of this and more had affected this city too, and the dockers’ fights were but a chapter in the changes that containerisation brought about. Similarly, teaching so intensely the story of Blood Brothers – in a new town formed by the displacement of dockers – resonated, as did our journeys to school misplaced by a new road to alleviate the problems caused by such lorries and containers around Switch Island. Add in the family history of cousins and uncles who drive the HGVs around the north, and that we live ten minutes away from pile and piles of the multi-coloured stacked boxes, plus that some pupils’ parents make and then drive the things, Hannah 2016 just had to be about shipping containers.

Especially when you consider that last year I was obsessed with shopping lists, full of the things the containers bring to our now isolated isle.

An aside; as a child I also loved this song, and it offers a link to a previous project about pigeons:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cwT2UR4x4Y

Back to this project. So, from Easter to June, I took a sketchbook with me every day, and twice a day, drew every container I saw on the way to and from work. The colours, the logos, fascinated me, engulfed me, and I loved to see new versions or unusual examples on the M57.

I drew what I saw, but what developed was an idea about what was inside – as my sister and wife were expecting, that wonder of the unknown took grip and so my drawing and painting of the outside became secondary to the consideration of the goods inside, delivering themselves across the north.

Containers were not just consigned to here, too. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting Bilbao and the Guggenheim, will have seen the rather beautiful container there, and although I was a bit gutted my idea was not a new one, it was good to see that another artists had appreciated the aesthetic qualities of these boxes, and celebrated them as things of beauty.

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Talking of which, as my little nephew entered the world, plus my son in the autumn all things being well, it seemed an ideal opportunity to share with you the process of my thoughts when seeing all these containers and wondering what might be inside.

‘Worlds in a Box’ said Joseph Cornell. The boxes, the containers, have been my world recently, and what a world it has been. Over the next few weeks I will share with you the world I encountered – how I saw it, what I saw, why I saw it that way… and hopefully my drawings and paintings, plus my wondering what might be inside, helps you to acknowledge the importance that our HGV drivers ad their containers have on our lives in the north.

The things they bring, what they take away, how they get things around the place to make our lives better…

What a Time to be Alive (For Ethan)

I had to take this opportunity to express my feelings in more than 140 characters, or an attention seeking FB status update, and outline in some detail my current situation.

This week has seen pleasure at the arrival of a new manager, naughty pleasures at a pile of stolen stickers to whittle the collection down further, enjoyment of a birthday party and several matches – and not just because some of my predictions came true – but then the really important stuff, the stuff that actually matters.

Like the lovely surprise of being asked to be a godfather, to a cute and cuddly, strong and strapping, very alert young man – ten years after the first time, a role I have continued to take so seriously and proudly.

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Then, my best father’s day yet – being spoilt rotten, having a great couple of hours in the ‘bat cave’ drinking den which I frequent, then being treated to an excellent tea of steak n chips and a couple more pints at a hipster joint with my two leading ladies and feeling very privileged indeed.

But the best moment came today when, preparing for a visit from the supreme commander, news came through of a magical arrival: a beautiful, richly deserved and long awaited bundle of immense joy and pride that makes it such a wonderful time to be alive.

Tomorrow is another day; if it’s tough, and voting or behavioural problems cloud my judgement, I just wanted to document this feeling, before it fades.

And after this past few days, I’ll need to remember – I have to remember – that, as Tim, and occasionally Liam, sing:

I’m just out of your range
Tomorrow
All your suffering’s in vain
Tomorrow

Now your grip’s too strong
You can’t catch love with a net or a gun
Gotta keep faith that your path will change
Gotta keep faith that your love will change tomorrow

Because this week has proved just that.

Spanish Eyes

Ne’er cast a clout til May is out, said Adrian Mole’s Nan, played by Beryl Reid in the seminal TV adaptation, or it could have been Queenie, Bert’s lady friend… I don’t recall.

Either way, only when May had passed could I feel things were truly turning, and a summer of optimism was on its way. Generally, this was the case, with some obstacles met and overcome confidently, so much so that we arrive in June all smiles and ready for the exciting next instalments.

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The month began where it ended, with disappointment on the pitch but interesting developments off it, saying sorrowful goodbyes to a dreamer, and ultimately huge cause for positive thinking about the future. I also bought my first kids’ football kits, much to the wife’s chagrin but I really appreciate her indulging me and the opportunity was simply too good to be true.

Much of the month was spent preparing for, and then celebrating, Mrs G’s birthday; days spent at the Strand buying forty little gifts, trips into town negotiating the excellent Francis Bacon exhibition and a busy Pandora whilst the little one shouts POO! And wrapping, decorating, cleaning continuously.
All part of the domestic bliss, and the nesting process.

We had a wonderful weekend for the last of the ladies. Hopefully, it showed how much we all think of her and how special she is to us.

Then came the trip of a lifetime: four days in a Basque utopia of pintxos, sunshine and playgrounds, wandering through streets of old towns across sandy beaches wondering if it could ever be this way forever. Bringing up a little Pedro might be rather problematic but the notion is lovely: late nights, laidback lifestyles, laughter…

We stayed in Bilbao, on the same street as the fanatical Athletic Club fans worship at the San Mames, where Mister Kendall once plied his trade. There were few traces of his legacy: the bar I’d found, named after the great man, had gone, and only one waiter entered into a conversation about him. He waxed lyrical, despite initial reluctance, during our last lunch, and I must say in terms of the food there that was the best of a very good lot.

For many, the idea of going on holiday and only really eating on one street seems alien, but for us it was ideal, because it was five minutes away and there were at least ten good pintxos bars serving snacks on toast of various sea food, jamon serrano, goats’ cheese, chilli peppers, crab mayonnaise… even a slab of foie gras for three euros which will upset Morrissey but made me very happy. All, of course, were accompanied by a variety of wines, unusual beers, sherries, Punt Y Mes, incredible G & Ts and non alcoholic lagers for the missus, at incredibly cheap prices.

This way of life really benefitted B, too – or us – because we didn’t outstay our welcome anywhere and each offered novelty value and a change of scenery but more importantly, suited our intrepid and experimental palates as well as our budget and our two and a half year old!

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I guess the highlights of the trip were the people, the Guggenheim Museum and its outside exhibits, particularly Maman and El Poop; the sunshine, the scenery, the sculptures, incredible street signage, and the San Mames, an incredible stadium from the outside and my quick glimpses inside.

Plus, San Sebastian as a whole – we even frequented its number one pintxos place by accident – and of course, the food. Just touring the markets in both cities was enough, the delectable range of fresh produce, knowledgeable staff, customers arguing over beautifully butterflied sardines or expertly butchered cuts of meat. Stand out bites included bacon / G&T ice cream in the same cup, a soft shell crab, oysters with local wine, cider being poured from a great height and my first taste of percebes or goose barnacles, which you might have seen people risking their lives to collect off dangerous rocks… To be honest, they were actually a bit of an anticlimax but still a lifelong dream to savour. The walks on the beach, the being in a European city of Culture again – and of course, watching Spain win 6 1 with my daughter on the day I’d bought her her first – and only – red football shirt.

Thinking about that, the only slight on events was the scarcity of references to the civil war. Having read several sources on the topic, and considered my own epistemological standpoint, I was hoping to see statues and memorials and even hear references during our txikitos but there seemed an eerie absence, an omission almost, as if there remains a fear to discuss the events of eighty years ago. There has been a lot in the news, and Pan’s Labyrinth does not suffice to explain away the injustices, nor a Manics song, nor the paltry few street names or George Orwell’s book nor the lovely and poignant sculpture on the beach at SS / Donostia. We drove past Gernika, and I thought of this:

With a heavy heart we returned, but it was full of love for a place we wholly recommend and will return to, one day anyway. In the mean time, we will enjoy the improved weather, the recipes from the excellent Jose Pizarro BASQUE cook book and of course, the Euros.

Sticker book nearly completed, sweepstakes entered, still loads of work to do but a tournament always lifts the spirits temporarily at least – not that they needed it, after good news from the consistently excellent Alder Hey hospital.

In the week of the launch of this year’s Hannah Festival, I will now turn my attention to containerisation. Exactly six years since my eyes were lasered in the ultimate act of creativity – ‘playful yet sincere’ – I return to painting, what my eyes have been seeing over the past few weeks.

Including one on the road from San Sebastian to Bilbao. And another at the Guggenheim.

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For weeks, I have been documenting the shipping containers I’ve spotted on my journeys to and from work and can now share them with you.