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Discovering the nature of art

MIKE Collier is an artist and a walker. But that’s not to say he divides his time between the two activities.

Artist Mike Collier, who is embarking on nine consecutive guided tours in the name of art

MIKE Collier is an artist and a walker. But that’s not to say he divides his time between the two activities. For him, they are one and the same.

Explaining that he has always been keen on getting about by foot, Mike says the work he does in his studio is all to do with the relationship between walking and making art.

“The act (art) of walking has taken on considerable significance in recent years,” he explains on his website.

“As issues surrounding climate change demand that we reduce our carbon footprint, a return to walking practices as a way of engaging with our world seems timely.

“Walking has ethical, experiential, political and therapeutic dimensions.

“It is something that anyone can do. Walking can be either a solitary or a social experience. Although, generally, it requires no particular skill, the very fact that we can walk through our environment and interact with it requires a high level of intuitive, motor and neural capacity.

“How we walk and what we do when we walk is key. What is our experience? How do we experience our environment?”

In his studio on Newcastle’s High Bridge is plenty of evidence of Mike’s interest in the natural world and his way of depicting it artistically.

Unlike a conventional landscape painter, Mike uses words, colours and shapes to convey a sense of place, appealing to the eye and the intellect.

One piece consists of a list of colloquial bird names – craw (rook), woofell (blackbird) etc – alongside blocks of colour representative of the landscape in which each bird was seen.

There are also boxes of pastels in beautiful shades. And, tucked on a top shelf like an imposter, is the autobiography of Steven Gerrard, which has nothing whatever to do with Mike’s love of walking and everything to do with Liverpool Football Club which he has supported since he was a boy growing up on Merseyside.

But back to nature...

This weekend, Mike begins a 100km walk from the mouth of the Tyne at South Shields, South Tyneside, to Tarset in Northumberland, which he views as the source of his creativity since it is here that the pastels he uses for his artworks are made.

The route has been divided into nine sections, to be undertaken on successive Saturdays and Sundays. Each will be led by a countryside expert and Mike is inviting 15 people to join him each time.

“We’ll look at the flora and fauna along the way and the social history of the area,” says Mike.

“One of the things I’m interested in is what plants, birds and insects can tell us about the things that have happened on a particular site. I’m also interested in what happens when you move from the town to the country.

“A lot of people think the countryside is all about nature and the town isn’t, but the whole of our journey will take us through highly-managed landscapes.

“Although people might not find some of the early parts of the journey pretty in the conventional sense, they are often much wilder than what you will find in the countryside.”

Mike says he is drawn to what the poet Paul Farley called “edgelands”, places on the fringes of built-up areas where rural meets urban.

Two years ago, Mike undertook a similar, though shorter guided walk from the mouth of the River Derwent (near the Metrocentre) to its source high up in the Pennines.

Over four Saturdays, 15 people took part, led by natural historian Tina Wiffen and ornithologist Steve Westerberg.

“I learned much about the landscape through which we walked and, as a group, we shared our ideas, thoughts and knowledge,” he recalls.

“It was fascinating to see how some flora and fauna appeared as ‘friends’ throughout our journey, while others remained specific to particular habitats and locations.”

Mike will take notes on each of the walks, gathering material for a book and a new body of work that will be exhibited in 2013 at the Customs House, South Shields, and the VARC (Visual Arts in Rural Communities) Gallery at High Green, near Tarset.

Mike, who lives in Rowlands Gill, came to the North East in 1985 to run the contemporary art programme at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and now lectures in fine art at Sunderland University.

The first walk, from South Shields to Bill Quay, will take place on Saturday, led by natural historians Matthew Hawking and Keith Bowey.

Places – limited to 15 – are free. To book, contact Mike on mike.collier@ sunderland.ac.uk or call 0191 515 2142. For more about Mike and his work, go to www.mikecollier.eu

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