James Whitman

Author, playwright and creative writing tutor, based in Sunderland.


20/20 Vision: Week #2

Two weeks into my writing residency at Mackie’s Corner, and my head is absolutely spinning. I’ve had a great time chatting with the artists involved in this fantastic exhibition, all of whom are very different in their approach and choice of subject.

Hearing about the different techniques each artist employs has also inspired some big breakthroughs in my main writing project. I’ve written two zines so far, each of which contains a piece of flash fiction set in the world I am building for this project (the working title of which is ‘Another Sunderland’).

Meeting More Artists

The first of the artists I spoke with this week was George Browell. The work he is exhibiting is abstract, and we talked about why he had chosen this direction.

George has been painting for the better part of 20 years, since he retired in his 50s. In that time, he has tried to develop a ‘loose’, relaxed approach to painting, instead of obsessing over specific details. Creating abstract images has helped George to explore aspects of painting beyond how realistic a  piece might be, and to be less critical of his work. He enjoys discovering his subjects as he paints them, and often stops soon after he has identified them.

Two pieces by Denise Dowdeswell, exploring the isolating effects of Austerity.

Two pieces by Denise Dowdeswell, exploring the isolating effects of Austerity.

Denise Dowdeswell also paints abstracts, but her approach is very different to George’s. Denise chooses a subject, and then researches this topic thoroughly. For instance, she showed me a series of prints based on interviews with a heroin addict, who described his different experiences with the drug.

From these interviews, Denise was able to capture on canvas how using heroin felt to this person. She was able to track back from his current experiences, feeling as though he interacts with the world through plastic sheeting, to what it felt like the first time he used heroin.

I also had the chance to chat with sculptor-in-residence, Anthony Barstow. Anthony is creating a piece of work called “The Phoenix Project”. With this piece, Anthony is exploring the effects of time on each of us and our surroundings, while time itself remains a constant, unaffected by the entropy all around it.

I’m really taken with how rich in metaphor Anthony’s work is. The piece includes a cabinet, within which personal artifacts might be displayed. But in Anthony’s sculpture, these objects have exploded from the cabinet, reflecting the sometimes violent exposure of internalised memories and trauma.


I completed two mini-zines this week, based on the work of Stephanie Smith and Kath Price. Each zine introduces the artist’s work, and includes a couple of short writing exercises. They also contain a piece of flash fiction that I developed from one of the writing tasks in that zine.

Both stories are set in ‘Another Sunderland’, my main writing project. The first is a self-contained piece, that presents a tiny corner of the world, and what is possible within it. The second piece is a short scene between two of the story’s main characters, a quiet beat that helps to set up an emotionally powerful pay-off towards the end of the first major story-line.

You can pick up copies of the zines at Mackie’s Corner, and I will make all of the zines available as digital downloads by the end of my residency. In the mean time, if you try any of the writing exercises in the zines, please get in touch and let me know how you got on.

Until next time… toodle-oo!

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