Drawing from Bosch: Samantha McNamara at h-EARTH

hEARTH artists in residency 2016

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New ceramics graduate Samantha McNamara tells CR about her summer residency in Aarle, The Netherlands

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Earlier this year, as a new graduate from Hereford College of Arts, I took part in a unique ceramics residency in Holland, called h-EARTH. Whilst there, I worked within a group of established artists in a pop-up tent workshop. The principle of the event was for the invited artists to live and work on the farm and to find artistic solutions to ‘questions’ that were put by local people.

In the case of this edition of the residency, the question was to help farmer Jan van den Boom establish his newly made Jheronimus Bosch garden, and make it more attractive to the public. In doing so, the residency aimed to connect artists with the local people in the rural south Netherlands. It was believed that Bosch lived on the farm as a child over 500 years ago.

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hEARTH. keramiek week Brabant

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After spending some time exploring a couple of his paintings and identifying aspects and forms I could draw from in my clay work, I took my ideas to the wheel and threw small slim-necked bottles and closed forms with round bellies. I envisioned the pieces to sit in collections of three on various fence posts, in coves and on ledges around the farmyard, to subtly blend in with all the bric-a-brac found around the yard.

As time progressed, sculptures started to emerge in the workshop. I found this inspiring; observing how the other artists approached the project, and how some worked with a combination of methods, such as combining a wheel-thrown form with hand-built components.

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With this, I returned to my sketchbook and the paintings with new ideas of processes I wanted to work with. I found myself looking back at my time practicing life-drawing over the year, and the way in which Bosch portrayed humans in the ‘Hell’ part of the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. I conceptualised a piece derived from the idea of a human form engulfed in flames, sculpting from a singular slab of clay.

Towards the end of the week, I threw a large, straight cylinder on the wheel, then manipulated the walls of the vessel into an owl on one side and a fish on the other. Both symbols were frequently used in Bosch’s work; the owl meaning ‘great learning’ and the fish symbolising ‘lewdness’.

On the final day there was a big opening for the community and supporters of the event, funded by the local council as a big celebration of the painter, the farm and the work we created in response. The event allowed us to talk to the guests about our time on the residency and to demonstrate how we created the work.

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This experience has been so creatively stimulating, opening my eyes to new ways of working. I loved living and making alongside such an amazing group of artists, learning about how they collate their own artistic visions from their surroundings, peers and localised resources.

My top tip to anyone thinking about taking part in an artist residency is to have a good idea of what the residency is about and to begin developing ideas of what you want to work on prior to your time there. The residency allows you to work in an inspirational environment where new ideas can take form and develop quickly over its duration if you have somewhere to start from. If you’re a young participant in a residency which hosts established artists, don’t feel the need to inhibit yourself. Everyone goes to bounce off and learn from each other, regardless of age or experience.

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 Discover more about h-EARTH at h-earth.nl | photographs: Elsbeth Pilz

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