In Hull they are tenfoots, elsewhere they might be a ginnel, an alley, even a snicket. Whatever name they are assigned, they are mostly ignored and forgotten spaces. Embodying the spirit of adventure and exploration, artist Chrissy Collinson tramps through these hinterlands and edgelands just as her heroines Nan Shepherd (Nan Shepherd wrote from the 1920’s to 1950’s) and Virginia Woolf did before her.
A graduate of Fine Art, Chrissy Collinson was a part-time student from 1983-90 at Hull School of Art and Design. A studio member of the Hull Artists Association studio from The Boulevard in 1997 and involved in exhibitions at Quay Art, she found that all the pressures of aligning herself to different groups, began to block her creativity. Today she works in her studio or researching new work in six-week stints. Creative time and time for making art is clearly timetabled throughout the year. Chrissy’s study of a neglected Priory Farm is currently on display at the Ferens Open Exhibition in the newly refurbished gallery. March 3rd will see Chrissie taking over the Pocket Gallery at Artlink on Princes Avenue for her Tenfoot Series
Chrissy describes the way tenfoots contain their visitor by their design. They are bordered on either side. of limited width as the name ‘ten foot’ clearly suggests: A necessary space dividing properties and providing thoroughfares for those who reside nearby. She describes how the ‘un-adopted spaces’ contain and focus the thought process and allows her to look beyond the immediate neglect and abandonment. The origins of tenfoots are found in the tracks for dustcarts and necessary drainage.
“There’s a wealth of colour and form to be found in the tenfoots.”
Taking inspiration from her immediate environment Chrissy is naturally passionate about local history about how the land has changed ownership and use through new development. Holding up a painting on board she describes the watercourses in her immediate vicinity and the architecture of the Springhead Pumping Station built in 1820; describing a cavernous space with the resonant sound of the water dripping from a great height into the structure.
These watercourses often hidden from view, through development have in many cases provided inspiration for the street names we use and recognise today.
Immersed in the psycho-geography she describes how all about, was swamp and marshland, until the Monks of Meaux reclaimed it, before they built the Haltemprice Priory. (hence Priory Road)
Adding interest to intrigue the last Prior was named Thomas Collynson.
The purpose built studio space where Chrissy creates her landscapes smells of turps and paint. Picking up another of her works she describes the scene pictured a watercourse runs alongside a green space, it’s a quiet familiar view. As she talks about the work in greater detail, she explains how the space, no longer looks the same, how the land has been stripped away, how it has become manicured and functional. Yet with a note of glee Chrissy suggests that once abandoned re-wilding will take place and nature will take its course reclaiming the land.
These micro landscape works concern our relationship and our impact on the land. This impact is seen none more clearly when returning to those abandoned spaces between the buildings.
‘I’m accustomed to the detritus, there’s a picturesque beauty in decay’
In any given tenfoot you may find a tattered sofa, white goods rusting away, general waste and refuse thrown down by some unwitting person. There’s a definite comment on consumerism in the work, how everything is built and bought to be replaced whether that’s piled up in a garden shed, or left to decay in a tenfoot. ‘It comes in the front door and goes out the back, we are simply being sold the dream of buy to replace.’
Moving deeper into the tenfoots Chrissy describes how she finds threads of gold, moments of pure inspiration that capture her imagination so completely that she finds that she must capture it. And that inspiration can come in the form of the way the elements cause rust to form on old bolts, how the paint has peeled just so, revealing another colour underneath, a new layer, not seen for years: a past life. She laughs upon noting the ridiculous locks and bolts on broken down sheds and holed fences, security so paramount yet the structure is so rotten that one push would knock it over. These things occupy the artist’s mind as she explores the tenfoots of Hull reading their layers of history understanding their heritage and purpose.
Upon bringing a photo home of a place that has struck a chord with her Chrissy will set to work upon creating a story, finding an existing narrative that will feed into her existing ideas of ownership, access and changing landscape.
She describes a sort of meditative quality to the process, she talks about the ‘golden ratio’ how a spiral draws the eye, finding seduction in the mundane and the commonplace. Decisions are made about colours, and focus, there are a looser set of rules and principles that hark back to the impressionist way of working, about discovering textures and replicating them through the paint. It is here where the meditative feelings come to the fore: an artist in their element using the tools of their trade.
Chrissy uses a restricted palette, choosing to mix her own colours rather than using off-the-shelf colours. Picking out another painting from a bespoke rack arrangement – like slides arranged in box – she describes the pale green and vivid cerulean blue in the abstracted work: just a few of the colours she rediscovers in the tenfoot.
Each of the paintings are oil on board 45cm x 60cm. The subject matter differs in size, a scene might be painted to scale, or a tiny scene may well be enlarged to reveal some hidden narrative or hidden beauty, the smaller frame size adds yet another layer of interest from the viewers point of view.
For some people these spaces would hold a certain fear and trepidation, despite the one way out enclosed nature of their design, they present nothing but a space for the imagination and creativity to flourish for Chrissy Collinson. She describes a kind of cloistered stillness in the tenfoot and also, perhaps intrinsic to Hull folk, a sort of village mentality in these spaces. Here she can embark on detailed studies of rust, examine heavy bolts hinges and hasps, placed years before to secure a property and keep intruders out.
Another work ‘Diogenes in my Back yard’ carries a message of duty, of ownership and access and raises, a pressing question about the displaced and homeless in our society. A simple farm scene, with building in the back half covered by tall green trees, in the foreground gypsy blocks unmistakable with their domed concrete tops denying access to the land. ‘What do we do with people who exist on the streets,’ she asks plaintively.
Another kind of ‘disappeared’ is explored in the work that bears the legend ‘How to disappear completely’ in graffiti on the wall. A Radiohead lyric from the song ‘Kid A‘ written by Thom Yorke, probably appropriated from Doug Richmond and his 1995 work on psychosuicide ‘How to disappear completely and never be found.’ The idea of removing traces of ourselves is a real and present concern for today, as we learn more and more about how big data companies can use our digital footprint, against us.
Trying to disappear completely in the digital world is nigh on impossible everything we do is tracked digitally, from the CCTV prevalent in every town and city to our bank transactions and of course the ever-evolving digital landscape of mobile devices and the latest online spaces.
All that detail and narrative is there for the viewer to derive from the innocuous scene, a row of garages, with a bit of litter at the front, an overgrown path with an abandoned settee, a close-up of rust and paint, peeling away in time.
Artist Site: Chrissy Collinson