Lindisfarne Gospels – Moths, Moons, Migrations

Observing Orbits1_edited-1

Two exhibitions to mark the return of the 7th century Lindisfarne Gospels to the City of Durham.



Spring 2012

I have been working on a number of pieces in anticipation of the visit of the Lindisfarne Gospels to Durham in the summer of 2013. It is one of the most precious treasures held by the British Library and I have have been lucky to have worked intimately  with the book on a number of occasions in the past. The last time the BL allowed it to travel back to its place of origin when it was shown at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle more than 100 thousand people queued around the block to catch a glimpse. This will be its first return to Durham (where it was originally housed up until the Reformation) in over 500 years so it is unquestionably a historic and emotionally charged event. I am aiming to record my own involvement over the coming months.


Observing Orbits (detail) – deconstructed notepad with pencil, ink and ephemera


I started drawing using a combination of pencil, pen and ink, marker pens and collage, using materials I had collected around me such as envelopes and pieces rescued from packaging. Junk mail envelopes, the flotsam and jetsam of modern life that wash up on your doormat each morning, hint at the movement of ideas and information and the seemingly infinite variety of their internal security patterning provides background noise akin to the Gospel’s complex interlocking and weaving. The geometric under-pinning of each drawing is loosely based on the square containing four spinning discs seen at the centre of the St. Luke Carpet page, a construct which has always fascinated me.


Luke Carpet2


I have been drawing with technical drawing instruments, compasses, dividers, set squares and templates, equipment which  provides interesting restrictions and possibilities. My dad was an engineering draughtsman so I always had stuff like this to play with, some of my earliest drawings I can remember were done on the backs of large blueprints. Observing Orbits is a piece about bird migration and the 200 variations on a circular motif are based on close-up scrutiny of birds’ eyes in the tiny illustrations for the Observer’s Book of Birds, another flash-back to childhood.


Arctic Circles – deconstructed notepad with pencil, ink and ephemera


I am always drawn back to the Cross Carpet Pages, the complex abstractions which introduce each gospel, dark age statements of ethnic unity and aids to prayer and meditation. This new body of work which begins with the four carpets will be shown at Bede’s World Museum and Monastic Site in Jarrow opening July 2013 – my favourite museum where I have installed work a couple of times before. It is a perfect blend of sympathetic contemporary architecture housing ideas of profound importance, built on an ancient site squeezed between an oil terminal and Nissan’s car export dock.





And there is a working Saxon farm with animals too (including a pair of amazing Hungarian wooly pigs)!




I am currently working on the third of four collections of drawings which is called Ocean Crossings. It is about the huge distances navigated by ocean-going seabirds such as albatrosses and petrels. Albatrosses in particular are severely threatened, some species close to extinction. The two main threats come from egg eating vermin such as rats introduced by humans to remote islands of the southern oceans, and long-line fishing, which often accidentally snares birds on hooks.


Ocean Crossings  deconstructed exercise book with pencil, ink and ephemera


January 2013 – Charting Hemispheres

I am now engaged in producing the fourth series of drawings based on the photographs I took at  the Nelson Collection at the Dorman. The collection of guillemot eggs numbers some 400 specimens and I have selected around 70 of them for the piece. Guillemots are auks, primitive birds of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Each spring the females lay only one egg on exposed cliff ledges and the egg’s pointed shape is thought to prevent it rolling off into the sea. Guillemot eggs vary tremendously in their surface patterning, each peculiar to individual birds.



Guillimot eggs



Thomas Nelson (1856-1916) moved from Bishop Auckland to Redcar on the North Yorkshire coast for the sake of his health. He developed a fascination with birds, observing migratory species on the mudflats at the mouth of the River Tees. He began collecting specimens and eggs from local people and received the Guillemot eggs from the Cliff climbers of Bempton cliffs near Flamborough. They risked their lives scaling the cliffs to collect seabird eggs for food but kept the most interesting patterns for Nelson. There is a disturbing film of their activities made in 1908 in the Yorkshire Film Archive.



Cliff Climbers



With the help of curator Zoe Wilson I photographed each egg four times, rotating it through 90 degrees each time to record a complete orbit of the surface. The drawings are then made from printouts, using a light box which enables me to map the patterns accurately, charting the details of tiny continents and islands in fine-liner on the insides of junk mail envelopes.




4 Eggs_edited-1

Charting Hemispheres (detail) deconstructed envelopes with ink



24th June – Moths and Moons in Durham

Moths and Moons, the piece I made for the British Library in 2006, has been hung in the World Heritage Visitor Centre Durham, on Owengate on the way up to the cathedral, just opposite to the Palace Green Library where the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition opens on 1st July. The 30 pieces painted using natural pigments applied to discarded library books, look at home suspended on a wire hanging system in front of  warm sandstone walls.


Moths at World Heritage 3

Moths at World Heritage 6

Moths at World Heritage 4



11th July – Patterns of Migration 

The exhibition has opened at Bede’s World, paired alongside an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval glass curated by Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp. The contrasting sets of artefacts complement each other very nicely.


Observing Orbits Installed


Charting Hemispheres Installed 1


Ocean Crossings Installed


Arctic Circles Installed


A big thank you to Pearl, Laura  and Jane for all of their efforts in the organisation and mounting of the exhibition and a special thank you to Sophie for all of the pinning! It is much appreciated.





Postscript November 2013:

We were invited by artist Sally Madge to visit her hut on Lindisfarne. The Shelter has been there for ten years now, destroyed and rebuilt in 2011, acting as refuge, shrine and art installation on the wild north coast of the island.






It was one of those perfect days of autumnal sunshine, calm seas and migratory birds. Flocks of flitting blackbirds just arrived from Scandinavia, finches and stonechats in twisted thorn trees, velvet scoters bobbing in the bay and paddling bar-tailed godwits probing the shoreline. A fitting way to round off a Lindisfarne Gospel Summer.









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