And some gorgeous pieces of beach-inspired art
Earlier in the week I popped into the funky, artist-run Fish-slab art gallery in Whitstable to chat to Martin Pammant and Jan Plaice about their recent exhibition. The majority of the work was Martin’s rustic pieces, created with beachcombed materials and driftwood. Jan had her ‘trademark’ pebbles on display, all painted in striking designs. In addition, she had her most recent creative innovations – canvases. There was also a piece on which they’d collaborated.
I started off asking them how the exhibition has gone. Straightaway Martin said that it had exceeded all his expectations, that his last exhibition was successful but this one has tripled that. I was interested to know who buys their art. Martin had previously told me that people find out about his work through the internet: Twitter, his website and also through JoJo’s restaurant in Tankerton. From these routes he has contacts in the Midlands and East Anglia, one in Cyprus, as well as Londoners. And also local people. The popularity of Martin’s Kent Beach Art seems to have been reflected in who has visited the gallery. He and Jan told me that a man from Stafford had come down for the weekend with his wife as a surprise: to visit the exhibition. This was someone they’d met via Twitter. They said that local artists have been both encouraging and generous.
I was interested to know what’s next for them. Martin said, making more pieces. Also that at the moment the balance is 80:20 between his work as a carpenter and his art. He said that ideally he’d like to ‘create’ full time, but a 50:50 balance would suit him. Jan still does some primary school supply teaching, something that she did for 20 years in Northamptonshire before she moved down to Whitstable. She says that whilst she still loves the pupils she is a bit disillusioned with education system [ooh, rings a bell!]. I was fascinated to learn that she is about to start Reiki practitioner training. She says that her approach to life has become more holistic over the years. I commented on her Twitter biography which says ‘making a habit of happiness’. Happiness is something which seems to surround Jan and Martin, and it seeps out of their beautiful creations. They told me how a lady had been in to the gallery and had seen the piece below and had started crying, saying, ‘there’s a lot of love in here’. Aww.
Jan said that her father was very artistic and when she was doing her B.Ed, she’d majored in Art and Design. It was when she moved down to Whitstable to be with Martin, she started painting her pebbles more seriously. Martin has always been creative, he says, and in his work as a carpenter, by doing bespoke work, he’s tried to make it as creative and unique as he could.
Having seen couple co-authors Nicci French and Lars Kepler interviewed at Crimefest, I was curious to know how Jan and Martin find working together, and whether they learn from each other. They agreed that they value each other’s opinions and feedback. They’re able to be honest with each other and take on board suggestions or stick to their guns, whichever feels right. Martin says that Jan give him calmness and Jan learns techniques from Martin. His carpentry helps, for example, he cuts wood by eye.
I was interested to know how they both ended up in Whitstable. Martin grew up in Croydon. When his parents moved to Northamptonshire he followed them up there and stayed there for 20 plus years, then moved to Whitstable and has been in love with place ever since. Jan had known Martin for twenty years. He’d been her son’s football coach but they lost touch. When they met up again they did long distance travelling for a year and then Martin ‘lured’ Jan down to Whitstable.
We then talked about how many artists and creative people live in Whitstable. History tells us they are often drawn to the sea. Martin said they’d been to Cornwall recently and had found it very similar to Whitstable: the sound of the sea, friendly people. They spent the whole time in ‘create’ mode. He said that he thinks what makes the difference is that people have come to Whitstable because they love the place.
It’s always interesting to hear where people get their ideas from so I asked them what comes first the idea or the materials? They both said, the materials. Martin said that he often knows instantly when he picks up a piece of material what it’s going to be. Occasionally a project doesn’t work so he leaves it. For Jan, it’s sensory. She picks each pebble up and walks round with it, rubbing it and touching it. She said that ideas evolve this way. Sometimes she applies the base coat and chooses the colours first and ideas just come. Music inspires her. She said that one day she was listening to a play on Radio 4. It was sad and so her pebble became a sad one. Otherwise she said that she absorbs colour combinations when she’s walking around, for example, the colours in a scarf in a shop. Then she mixes those colours and uses them.
I was interested to know which is their favourite piece from their own work, and why. For Jan it’s the second canvas she made in a set of six. The first one was a practice, as it was a new direction for her but she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off but was pleased with the outcome and did five more. For Martin, it’s the ivy tree root. He said he loves the story behind however the root got cut down inland, washed out to sea, stripped of its bark and washed back up on the shore. The plinth in this piece is an old brass chair leg which he found on same day.
I asked about the beachcombing and if material comes from any other sources. You can beach comb debris, in fact coast guards often encourage it as it helps to keep the beaches clear and safe. Martin uses old nails, some of these he got from local store, Stocks, who bought up materials from when the old boatyards closed. As most of the stones on our beaches are natural sea defences or have been put in place, Jan’s pebbles aren’t beachcombed, she buys them in specifically for her designs. She said that they need to be the right size and shape to paint.
I asked whether their pieces had reoccurring themes. They both agreed that the main one is love, and although they didn’t say it, it came across that this is love of life, for each other and for their work. Martin said that driftwood unites his pieces, also that he puts his heart and soul into each of them . . . and often blood and skin! The link between love and creativity isn’t new. Some people need it to create, others are most productive without it. Martin seems to fall into the former category, saying how when his father died he couldn’t create for months. He said that his head and heart need to be in right place. They both agreed that they are very sensory and have highly personal work spaces. They surround themselves with photographs, memories and things they love, as these spark off ideas.
Finally, I had to ask them about their studios. Jan has a wooden cabin, with lots of cream and sage green. She’s furnished it with a sofa, and a table by the window, both from her old house in Northampton, and says she does her yoga in there. Martin’s is very different: a vibrant space, and he likes to play loud music. His has a log burner. He says that in the winter Jan sneaks in to his studio to work. I love the idea of the separate studios with the walkway in between.
It was a pleasure chatting to Jan and Martin. I am always interested in, and inspired by, people who are working hard to create something new for themselves, something they’re passionate about and which nourishes them. It is so fabulous to pursue a life which involves making things which will give others joy. The fact that their works relates to the sea makes me like it all the more.
If you want to read more about Jan and Martin, they are in August’s Ideal Home magazine. Martin’s website is here: http://www.kentbeachart.com/about.html And below is Jules Roy’s documentary on Martin.
Vicky Newham © 2014