Colombia: A New Adventure

Hi everyone!

As promised, I came back to let you know where to find me next. I’ve now started up my Colombia blog which will be very similar to this one – lots of interviews, colourful photos and stories of my adventures. I leave on Tuesday.

If you want to follow along, stop by and subscribe.

Say hi to London for me x

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London Art Spot: Charlene Lam

Longing. Belonging. Belongings.

These words describe the essence of Charlene Lam’s art. They stem from a multicultural background She’s a German-born Chinese-American who has grown up in NYC and San Francisco where she performed as part of a hip-hop troupe though she also has 10 years of classical ballet training. She’s lived in Germany, Sweden and now London. To top it off, her husband is an Italian-born Peruvian.

Needless to say, she loves to travel and if you read on through this week’s London Art Spot, she explains how those words above tie her wanderlust and artwork together. She also talks about her obsession with wandering the banks of the Thames to collect washed-up materials to use in her work (a sort of reinterpretation of belongings) and she shares a lovely story about a woman called Lee Chin Won Ying.

LLO: Which aspects of London life influence your creativity?
CL: I love my East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. It’s super trendy and full of drunk people on the weekends, but the feel is entirely different than that of West London. I like my cities to be a little gritty and full of surprises, and this area certainly qualifies, with its mix of old and new, high and low. Plus, the street art is excellent, and I see something new every time I go out.

LLO: On your website, you wrote: “I love exploring the potential of different materials, especially repurposed ones, and letting the materials tell me what they long to be.” What’s the most unusal material you’ve worked with and what did it turn out to be?
CL: I’ve been obsessed with the clay tobacco pipes that wash up on the banks of the Thames, particularly the fragments of pipe stems that date from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries. If I’m by the Thames and it’s low-tide, I’m down on the banks collecting bits of clay — no matter how impractical my footwear.

I’m still playing with the possibilities of the pipe stems, bundling them together with thread, combining them with different materials. I’d love to make them into jewellery. I read a report that suggested pipe stem fragments were reused as wig-curlers, and I’m curious if I can use them that way in my curl-resistant Asian hair.

I find it amusing that I’m playing with a previous era’s rubbish. Why am I so enamoured by a bouquet of discarded pipe stems when a cluster of cigarette butts would only disgust me? I’m aware that I’m romanticising a past that I don’t understand, but I’m endlessly fascinated: some of this city’s garbage is older than my country!

LLO: Is there a certain material or object you’ve got your eyes on that you’d love to work with but haven’t tried yet?
CL: So many materials! I’m coveting all kinds of offcuts from various businesses, because I love the challenge of making something out of nothing and hate seeing things go to waste. But to name a certain technique, I would love to work with clear resin. The ability to physically capture an object — and perhaps a moment — so that it’s at once preserved and yet untouchable is very appealing to me.

LLO: Why should we immediately pop over to visit your blog, “Someday London” and where did the title come from?
CL: “Someday London” is London through the eyes of a creative expat: my triumphs and humiliations, my likes and dislikes, the extraordinary and the everyday.

There’s so much to see and explore in London, and I love sharing my finds with other people. For instance, I’ve started highlighting the work of the amazing craftspeople and designers I come across, because the quality and breadth is stunning.

The blog is called Someday London because big cities are full of longing: “Someday … I’ll afford a place of my own.” “Someday … I’ll get out of here.” One of mine was “Someday … I’ll live in another country” and now I’m doing it!

LLO: In what ways does your NYC background still influence your work in London?
CL: New York City will always have my heart. I’m very inspired by the potential of materials and people, and there’s no place that pulses with possibility the way that NYC does.

I’ve been in London for a bit over a year, and I’m very much aware of not quite belonging. I’m too chatty and overenthusiastic by British standards; I don’t drink much so pub culture eludes me; I still get confused sometimes crossing the street.

My work is often influenced by my personal struggles with identity and finding a place to belong. I’m in London for now, but I’m not from here. I don’t think I belong here, but I’m happy to be here all the same.  I don’t know if I belong anywhere, but so far New York City is the closest thing to home.

LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to pick up found objects to use in your artwork?
CL: The more neglected and overlooked, the better! Hardware stores. The banks of the Thames. Charity shops. Pound stores. Skips. Buildings sites. My eyes are always scanning the streets for possibilities.

LLO: Tell us about Lee Chin Won Ying and the project her story has inspired.
CL: Lee Chin Won Ying was my great aunt, or “yee pau”. She emigrated from China to Hong Kong and then to New York City, where she worked as a seamstress. After she died, I found amongst her papers her study sheet for the U.S. citizenship test. In typewritten English and handwritten Chinese, it dryly tells the story of her hard life.

Women of my generation struggle with having too many choices; she had very few. She worked as a seamstress because she had to, while I can make things for the joy of it. Even after she started living in relative comfort, she hoarded things like plastic bags, food, and scraps of fabric — not uncommon for Chinese immigrants of her generation who lived through periods of real poverty. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with our “more is less” culture, where we buy, own and throw away so much, yet live in a similar state of insecurity.

I am recreating phrases from that study guide — like “I am a sewing worker” — in embroidery. I didn’t speak her dialect of Chinese, so we had trouble communicating when she was alive. Retelling her story through stitch is my way of honouring her life and, in a way, of having a conversation with her.

LLO: Which project are you most proud of so far and why?
CL: I’m particularly proud of “Petals (Longing for Light)”. We were living in northern Sweden. I was struggling with the lack of light and the scarcity of affordable art materials. It was made in response to a call for submissions, but I remember not thinking about it too much, just working with the basic materials I had, and channeling my angst into these beautiful forms. I learned a lesson that I return to time and time again: My best work comes from Love and Longing.

LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
CL: Currently: Rob Ryan, the folks from Print Club London, the illustrators of Peepshow collective, the designers of Farm collective, Evelin Kasikov and her CMYK cross-stitch.

LLO: What are you working on now?
CL: I’ve been playing around with alternatives to purchased gift wrap, using rescued and repurposed materials. I’ve always loved the glamour and fun of gift wrapping, but hated the waste.

I’ve also just curated a selection of work from seven designer-makers for the Craft Central Micro Boutique at Vitra’s Christmas Gift Market. The market was in their gorgeous showroom in Clerkenwell, and I wanted to showcase these products designed and made in studios around London alongside the designs of masters like George Nelson.  10% of sales went to benefit the housing and homeless charity Shelter.

Thanks Charlene!

Check out more of Charlene’s work here: www.charlenelam.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Fr Stephen Wang

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Fr Stephen Wang

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary in Chelsea, where he also teaches philosophy and theology. His latest book is Aquinas and Sartre: On Freedom, Personal Identity, and the Possibility of Happiness, published by Catholic University of America Press. He blogs about culture and faith at Bridges and Tangents.

LLO: As a born and raised Londoner, what are the most noticeable ways the city has evolved in your lifetime?
SW:
It’s bigger and busier. I remember a study recently about how our walking speed has increased (they secretly time you crossing bridges etc). It’s more culturally and ethnically diverse. Immigration has enriched London immensely. Random landmarks that didn’t exist when I was born in 1966: the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Oyster Cards, sculptures on the fourth plinth, Boris Bikes, Tate Modern, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. Tragic losses: the Routemaster bus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background and your blog, Bridges and Tangents.
SW:
I was born in University College Hospital just off Tottenham Court Road, when my parents were living in Chiswick. I grew up in Harpenden, near St Albans. I’m a Catholic priest and I work in the seminary in Chelsea, where we prepare men for the priesthood. I never imagined I’d start a blog. It happened quite quickly. I was thinking of writing a book, and a friend pointed out that if I really wanted to communicate and share ideas, then a blog would be more immediate and reach far more people. The penny dropped.

LLO: Freedom is your most used tag on your blog. In a recent post, you wrote “Perfect freedom is being able to step off the back of a London bus whenever you want, whatever the reason, and walk into the sunset without a bus-stop in sight.” Are there other London moments that give you a perfect sense of freedom?
SW:
The fact that London is a city for walking around gives me the greatest sense of freedom. Other random moments of exhilaration, freedom and space include: sitting at the front on the top deck of a double-decker bus; looking at the cityscape from the middle of any of London’s beautiful bridges; jaywalking with abandon — in the knowledge that this would be illegal in some countries; walking through the parks; and along the river at South Bank.

LLO: Can you recommend a few places in London to go for a sense of spirituality without stepping foot in a church/temple/mosque, etc?
SW:
Whenever the next Kieslowski retrospective runs at the British Film Institute; standing over the Greenwich Prime Meridian line, knowing that you are at the still point of the cartographic world; walking round the Serpentine; the Jubilee Line station at Canary Wharf.

LLO: As a catholic priest and philosopher, how important would you say religion is in people’s lives in London today compared to when you started out in your career?
SW:
There are various crosscurrents: some people are much more secular, hardened in their secularism, and dismissive of religion. Yet many more people seem interested in religion who are not believers — as if they are more open to spiritual and transcendent questions, more open to the idea of spirituality and prayer. And religion is a bigger cultural and political reality than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Plus the new immigrants tend to be people of faith (indeed anyone coming to London from outside Western Europe tends to be a person of faith!)

LLO: You recently contributed to a BBC Online article about celibacy, sharing your own experiences. The post on your blog includes tags “happiness” and “loneliness”. Is this commitment one you ever regret or are you content in your decision?
SW:
I don’t regret the decision I have made at all. The whole life of being a priest, including celibacy, has brought me enormous happiness. And the celibacy itself has given me a real freedom, a freedom of heart – to be present with other people in all sorts of wonderful ways; and to pray in a way that would be difficult if I had the responsibilities of family life. I couldn’t live this way without the love of friends and extended family and the communities I have lived in over this time.

LLO: Tell us about something, someone or somewhere you’ve discovered in London that you think the rest of us should know about.
SW:
One secular and unknown: The Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall, a single room containing the whole history of clocks and watches, including John Harrison’s 5th marine timekeeper made famous by the book Longitude. One religious and very well known, but I’m still amazed by how many Londoners have never been in it: Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey), an oasis of calm and devotion near Victoria Station, full of amazing art and architecture.

LLO: With Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others living side by side in London, what sort of atmosphere is created when people of every religion mingle in this melting pot city?
SW:
The whole world is here in London, and probably every language and religion. It’s good that we can live side by side, and in peace. Perhaps people don’t talk enough: We occupy the same social space, but often stay within our own mental worlds – unless there is something like a school or sports club or whatever to bring people together. London Citizens is a wonderful grassroots example of people of all faiths and none coming together for justice issues and forming real bonds through that common work. When I get back from Lourdes I want to start talking to strangers in London, but very soon I realize I am becoming one of those crazy people that Londoners fear…

LLO: What do you say to people who are suspicious of religion as being manipulative or deceptive?
SW:
It’s true that religion can sometimes be manipulative and deceptive – we have to admit that and watch out for it very carefully. And as a Catholic priest I wouldn’t push the abstract idea of ‘religion’ for its own sake. But religions can also be sources of spirituality, community, liberation and healing for many people. That’s something to be open to and not afraid of.

LLO: What’s your favourite part about living in your postcode?
SW:
Being near the river; living close to three cinemas; the number 19 bus.

Thanks Stephen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

London Art Spot: Iris Jones Vs The Great Mundane

This week, there’s no ordinary London Art Spot post (partly because I’ve been incredibly busy, and partly because I wanted to update you on what one of the fabulous past interviewees has been up to!)

This is Christina Owen:
Christina 15

You may remember her London Art Spot interview from a while ago. If not, go have a look. She’s a talented photographer, can give a great comedy routine and, like the heart of LLO, she’s always got her eyes on the little things.

If you love the photography and interviews posted here, head over to Christina’s new blog: Iris Jones Vs. The Great Mundane where she explores the concept of the “UNdane”. She gave me the honour of being one of the first people featured on The UNdane Interview and a shout-out to LLO.

Keep an eye on her. She’s up to great things.

London Art Spot: Martin Hoare

Some people love to capture London on film, others in photographs, a few just in memory. Welsh illustrator Martin Hoare takes his sketch book out to the streets. Later, some of these sketches are transformed into more elaborate drawings or paintings. For a while, his pens & pencils sat in a drawer while he concentrated on his day job as a graphic designer, but now he’s set up a blog to revive them. It’s called Martin’s Doodles. If you enjoy his unique catalogue of London life below, pop over and have a look.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Martin tells us a story of frustration as a prospective art student, talks through the process of creating a new piece of work and about the satisfaction he’s recently discovered in a completely unrelated hobby that fills his spare time.

Piccadilly Line

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
MH:
London is an amazing place to live and work. I’ve lived here now for 12 years and there are still always new places to discover. I love the way that each area has its own unique feel, the way you can travel just a short distance and feel like you’ve gone somewhere completely different. It’s always been drawing people and the way the people of London interact with each other and the urban environment. That’s what really interests me. Someone once said: “There’s 8 million stories all playing out at the same time.”  That’s what I’m trying to capture.

Green Park

LLO: Graphic designer by trade, and here you are with a blog full of “doodles”, of sketches and drawings. What’s your artistic background?
MH:
I have always been a compulsive drawer. As a kid, I don’t think I was happy unless I had a pencil and a stack of paper. I left school at sixteen and took a training scheme at the local Ford Motor plant. I think it soon became apparent that I had no interest in producing axles and, fair dues to them, they set me up with an interview at the local art college. But without formal qualifications, they weren’t interested in taking me on, and at the end of the interview they showed me a perfectly airbrushed illustration of a motorbike and told me not to come back until I could produce work of that standard. This really discouraged me from perusing any kind of career in art. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the illustration was from a student’s final degree show.

I did a fanzine for a bit around this time, designed a few record sleeves, t-shirts and gig posters for local bands. Then when the need to get a proper job came along, I became a painter and decorator. So I was working as a painter, but just the wrong type. I still kept on drawing but didn’t think of doing anything with it until I started taking a life drawing class. There were a lot of art students there from the college that had turned me down a few years back and I was surprised to find that I was drawing at a better level than practically all of them. So I thought, what the hell, gave up my job and started a foundation course. I intended to go on to study fine art or illustration, but having discovered the wonders of what could be done on a Mac, did a degree in Graphic Design and have been sitting in front of a screen ever since. The down-side of this being that for a long time I put down my pencils and brushes and it has taken me quite a while to pick them back up again.

Brewer Street

LLO: Where did the initiative to start “Martin’s Doodles” come from and what do you hope to achieve by keeping the blog?
MH:
I had drawings all over the place, in numerous sketchbooks, on bits of paper, and it was hard to keep track of everything. I really needed to get everything scanned in, just to pull everything together. So the main reasons for setting up the blog were getting organised, getting my work out there and moving it forward. After all, what’s the point of producing a load of artwork if it’s just going to sit in a drawer in the spare room?

LLO: Best place in London to shop for art supplies?
MH:
Cass Art in Islington. I spend a lot more there than I need to, I have a thing for buying new sketch books, whether I need a new one or not. I also visit the London Graphic Centre in Covent Garden quite a bit.

North Lanes

LLO: Favourite place in London to sit with a sketch pad?
MH:
Probably somewhere on the South Bank, especially when the sun is out. There’s usually a chilled atmosphere and noone is in a rush to get anywhere, which is helpful when sketching.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
MH:
It’s usually what I’ve just finished or am working on at that time. I’ve just finished a painting ‘Leaving Las Vegas’, which is Soho street scene. The thing that started me off on this image was the signage, which I just had to work into a painting. And being Soho it just had to be a night scene.

Leaving Las Vegas

LLO: Describe the process of how your artwork comes to life from the moment you conceive an idea to the finished product.
MH:
I’ll spend a lot of time wandering around just looking for somewhere that will work as a drawing or painting. I’ve basically always got an eye on the next piece of work. Once I’ve chosen a location I’ll do a few rough sketches and take as many pictures as I can. I’ll then put all these together in Photoshop, and usually work up a composite image, putting all the elements together. Print this out and make a rough pencil drawing sketch placing all the main elements on the page. Once that’s done I’ll start working up the drawing, with either a fine liner, or ink and pen. Once I’m happy the drawing is done, I’ll either add shading with marker pens, or I might scan the drawing and colour it in Photoshop.

The next stage is to determine which drawings may have the potential to be worked up as paintings. The whole painting process is a lot more involved and time consuming. Unlike drawing where the work can be finished in one sitting, a painting can be very much a stop-start affair, gradually taking shape, depending on the free time I have available. But it’s really rewarding when you finish with something that you’re pleased with.

Oceanic Leather Wear

LLO: What do you get up to when you’re not drawing/doodling/sketching/painting?
MH:
Aside from work which takes up a large part of my time, I have recently started gardening. For the first time since moving to London I have a garden, and have really gotten into growing my own vegetables; there’s something really pleasing about eating food you’ve grown yourself. I tend to go to a lot of galleries. One of the great things about London is that there is just so much art going on; wherever I happen to be, I can usually take a bit of time to check out whatever galleries are around. Being Welsh, I also often end up in the pub watching a bit of rugby.

LLO: Is there a place in the capital you’d love to sit for a day with a sketch pad but haven’t had the chance yet?
MH: Actually having the luxury of a day to sit sketching is not something I’m used to. Maybe it’s being a Graphic Designer, where everything is driven by deadlines, but there never seems to be enough time to fit everything in. I’ve never done any drawings on the tube; maybe I could sit on the Circle Line going round and round drawing people. Perhaps I should try that.

Smoking Man

LLO: Any impressive up-and-coming London-based artists we should keep our eyes on?
MH:
Print Club in Dalston (www.printclublondon.com), has some really good illustrators and artists. I like a lot of the work they produce.

Sundae, Sundae

Thanks Martin! 

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.