bees and beasts

October 27, 2011

Len Shelley and Angie Biltcliffe were hugely popular and influential figures with Hastings and the wider art world.  Both worked closely with Hastings Museum over the years, as exhibitors, guest curators and workshop leaders.  This exhibition celebrates their work, reflecting the profound impact their lives, and untimely deaths, have had, with an exhibition that will be of interest equally to visitors who knew them well and those new to their work. This paragraph is taken from the Coastal Currents web page on arts events at The Hastings Museum. Concise, accurate and with carefully chosen words – better than I could do myself so I hope they won’t mind it being lifted! The exhibition is now closed.  Angie and Len were close neighbours, warm, friendly and welcoming folks.This retrospective is largely based on Angie and Len’s working life during the years that they were together. Some have said that maybe a little indication of Angie’s art and making in the years prior to Len would have been useful to see but, her part of the exhibition was focused on her life as a bee keeper which certainly was her main obsession of late.

The Swarm (below) was the last work in Angie’s studio –  Jane Broomfield completed the installation and Angie’s description below.

‘One of my favourite things about bees is their swarming. It’s the most beautiful thing ever.
When you’ve seen a swarm and stood right in the middle it’s like you know everything there’s ever been to know in this world.
Swarms usually happen the middle of a hot blue day. The bees start singing, and their sounds get higher and higher and then they fly straight out of where they’ve been , like in a tree or a hive. Maybe thirty thousand bees. they fly round and round and in great big circles and their singing gets so loud and the air is silver and shiny and full of wings and honey and nothing else, and if you stand in their flying it’s like you can fly too.
Then it’s over, it’s just minutes but you’ll never forget it. They gather on a post or in a tree, all solid together like one huge bee and they’re so gentle and trusting that you can pick them up and take them home and keep them, unless they’ve already decided where they are going, then they fly away, turning to air right in front of you.’

Visitors were encouraged to write their thoughts on postcards . . . . reading these it’s obvious how Angie affected many who came in contact with her whether by film (videos played) or face to face.

The image below shows a small part of a sort of record of their work with children, communities – images and personal recollections . . .

Len hung some work for Art in Romney Marsh in one of the churches – this example shows his humour . . . quite ‘grim’ as he described it.

And a few examples of his boxed work. He worked with detritus found on the beach so all components – the waste of society –  were salvaged and reused.  ‘Collecting on the beach is what I wanted to do as a child. Now I’m grown up so I can do what I like’. Well, sounds as though he had to keep his hands clean when he was little! The characters were thought of as child toys and went through a casting process – shape of the head – closed or open mouth – angle of the eyes – all to give the right idea of character. ‘I like to think that people can look at the box and expect the character to move’.

‘The sea is a metaphor of time . . . it permeates into my dreams’

The box and the cartoon made before the construction I assume.

Len drew cartoons on loo paper  – Izal type –  the drawings came from snippets of stories found in the newspapers . . Spike Milligan would have enjoyed these . . . . I know I do.

Thank you both.X

Who screams first,

knife man or me?

Enough, I’m gone, 

pushing at the windows,

ready to scatter

through the sky 

like a rainstorm

another paper cup

drifting over the motorway. 

But the white ghosts chase me,

lash me to the bed,

wash me down 

in sour milk and urine,

and scratch a cross

across my belly 

Far above this fancy dress corpse

a honey bee flies,

casting the shadows of trees and rivers 

humming me the hymns of flowers,

and calling me

back to the hive.  Angie Biltcliffe  Hospital Bee.

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