Michael Davies Workshop – 23.7.11/ I AM by John Clare

Michael Davies Workshop

Michael Davies Workshop

I met Katy and Kath in the kitchen and we talked about the method of the workshop and the laying out of the space.
It was a workshop I used to do several times a year in schools and for the Ranger Service. . Something that everyone can play with…
Method… Press and flatten clay into a deep, open wooden frame- set on a table top. The clay needs to be a couple of inches thick and the frame leak-proof at its joins. Press found objects/ inscribe the clay with tools to leave impressions, textures and words. When you’ve finished marking the clay, mix up casting plaster and pour over the clay to fill up the frame. When the plaster has set, open the frame and peel off the clay to reveal the plaster cast. I bought along all the materials, sculpting tools, pastry cutters, letters, and a selection of found objects.
I met Adrian, Katy and Craig in the space, introduced myself and the materials and passed around “one I’d made earlier”. Kevin arrived and joined in the making with Kath. Helen joined us and later and started on her own
Craig wanted writing on his piece… For the writing to be the right way round on the cast-  it would have to be drawn backwards in the clay…How to write backwards- I wrote on a post-it note and held the paper up to the window so the words could be seen through the paper, in reverse. They could now be traced on the back of the paper and this tracing used to show how to form the letters. Craig had initially tried writing with wooden block print letters that I’d bought in with me…but wasn’t happy with the result and scraped his clay back to start again. He then continued using a wire loop sculpting tool to cut out trenches to spell his words.
Adrian was pressing the figure of a man deep into the clay so we had to find a way to dig it out without ruining the impression it had made. He wanted  wings on the man’s back (I’d bought in a  Christmas-tree decoration of a pair of  angel’s wings). We talked of whether  to build the picture from the front backwards- or back to front… pressing something in shallowly then pressing in something deeper over it…how to make one thing appear in front of another in the finished cast
Adrian finished his piece first so we made a small mix of plaster for his mould. He made sure the mix was smooth by stirring it with his bare hand, raking his fingers through it to find and squeeze out any powdery lumps
After having a rest from working with Kath on his piece Kevin handed me a scrap of paper-
1950s’ Heaton Avenues- Clay Boilers
When we wer children in Heaton Alan, David, Billy and myself we used to take the clay off the workmen out of the trenches where they were laying cables We washed it made it into (unreadable) oblons shap cut a square out of the front push a round tunnel through it bake it in the gas oven until it was hard waited for it to cool off put paraffin soaked rags in it an run around the streets with smoking out the top and the round tunnel
Kevin Brown
Thank you
I told him it would make a good picture and  would he like to make one?…He didn’t think he’d be any good but thought I could do a good one
I sat down and chatted with Kevin about the clay boilers, books, the coach painting of buses and poetry. He spoke of Gerald Manly Hopkins, and nature poets, especially John Clare and recommended I read “ I AM”- written when Clare was hospitalised for what was the final time in a Northamptonshire asylum;

John Clare (1793 – 1864, Northamptonshire, England)


 I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.

1 thought on “Michael Davies Workshop – 23.7.11/ I AM by John Clare

  1. Comment from Dee. 18.08.2011

    Hello fellow discussees, A great account of John Clare’s 80 mile walk home after fleeing from an asylum in Epping Forest is chronicled in Iain Sinclair’s ” Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s Journey out of Essex.
    A very poignant account.

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