I am awaiting the arrival of the night

An exhibition of stories at the Gallery at Bank Quay House by Markmakers

It's all back to front, telling stories with pictures and making sculptures with words, but that is what you'll find in Warrington from May to July as the Halton-based group of artists Markmakers bring their latest exhibition to The Gallery at Bank Quay House on Sankey Street, Warrington.

Over the past two years, artists from Markmakers have been reading and sharing stories, choosing authors and books that interest and inspire them before going back to their studios to create beautiful interpretations of the narratives that they have read. One of the books, Mark Cocker's Crow Country, the opening line from which the exhibition takes its title, features descriptions of nature and the natural environment. It has stimulated artworks and research visits in the landscape of Warrington and the North West, resulting in many of the artists making work featuring Crows and their habitats.

Not all of the artworks use published stories as their reference point, many of the artists have touched on their own personal accounts of life, showing how even the smallest events in our lives have significance and consequences.

Sculptures, painting, drawing, prints and collage all appear in the bright, spacious Gallery at Bank Quay house, which has a reputation for showing the very best examples of creativity from the North West and beyond. These diverse artworks will also be shown alongside a number of artworks that take the form of a book, which visitors will be able to handle, plus a small library of the books that inspired the works will be available for visitors to read whilst they have a cappuccino at the Coffee Shop cafe within the gallery.

Dear Jeni and all of your hugely talented fellow Markmakers

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to know that my book Crow Country was in part an inspiration for this outstanding exhibition of art. I hope you will be interested and amused to hear that the book actually first became a serious proposition in a place that is extremely well known for art.

Eight or nine years ago I was sat in the Tate Modern in London (its former director, Sir Nicholas Serota, incidentally, was at one of the other tables) and me very much feeling out of place and very nervous in such swanky surroundings. Even worse, I was setting out that lunchtime to convince my editor, a Londoner born and bred, a man of strict urban lifestyle and taste, that my next book was to be on nothing more exciting or exalted than the humble rook.

We all know the bird, even if only subliminally. It is that despised, persecuted and gloriously beautiful creature found up and down this country, in virtually every village and sometimes, it seems, in every field that we pass in the car. Rooks are truly everywhere. They are stitched into the very fabric, the sheer ordinariness of English daily life.

Of course what I had an inkling of and what all of the artists in this exhibition know outright is that the fabric of ordinariness is where all the real magic lies. It is the task of creative people to remind us of the wonder and joy that is literally before our very eyes. Artists such as these, exhibited here today, recall the truth of that line by French poet Paul Éluard: ‘There is another world, but it is in this one.’

I have received a number of accolades for Crow Country, most notably it was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non Fiction in 2008 and it won the New Angle Prize in 2009. None is more meaningful to me than that it should have played some small part in leading to the show tonight. It is a huge privilege to be with you even if only vicariously.

I cannot possibly comment on each piece but simply wish to note the exceptional and consistently high standard across a hugely diverse body of work. I will pause also to say how much I love Amanda Oliphant’s basket of words, which suggests to me how the real poetry of life has to be unscrambled from off the woodland floor or out of the hedgerow. I love the bold mark-making and glorious movement in Jacqui Chapman’s paintings. I love the vast sense of space in Cathy Rounthwaite’s images and the sheer potency of her crow prints. I love the wit and profundity nestled in Jeni McConnell’s clock sculpture. I love the spare but hugely suggestive abstract patterns in Jane Copeman’s prints. Finally I love the sheer delicacy of Rachel James’s beautiful nests.

What a fabulous body of work and all from a single black ordinary magical bird.

Last of all it remains for me to tell you what my editor said all that time ago in that rather nervous lunch at the Tate Modern. I should first point out that my editor, befitting his profession, is a man of very few words and those he does say are delivered in a slow, deliberate, rich, deep, slightly posh accent. In fact he sounds not unlike a rook himself.                                               He said: ‘rooooooooooooks, I love rooooooooooks.   The rest, as you know, is history            Thank you.


Angela Sidwell

Animals have dominated my life and have always stayed pivotal to my work.  To try and move away from them in any way just doesn't feel right – they are my passion – be it as my friends and pets, wild birds that flit in and out of my life, or animals that I will never meet but think and worry about every day.

When creating sculptures I hope to reveal an animal's character, their feelings and thoughts, our relationship with them and theirs with each other.

I work in various materials, but in particular wood, textiles and wire. I enjoy the physicality of sculpture – the wrestle with materials – I have never made my life easy and this seems a necessary factor to my work.

Reading Mark Cocker's Crow Country inspired me to spend more time watching the birds that live in the woods near my home, in particular the antics of two rooks that I see every day and that always seem to be up to something or other, be it hassling one of the buzzards or generally “hanging out” - although I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye!


Cath Ball

Much of Mark Cocker's Crow Country deals with flight and I spent time thinking how I could get movement into a sculptural form.  An inspiration came from a group of wings I saw at the Royal Academy's Bronze Exhibition and Paul Lantz's photos of birds in flight.  I made charcoal sketches and from there experimented with pieces of clay until I was satisfied with the result. 

I am especially pleased with the smoke effect on clay that is unique to the Raku firing process.  It gives a deep yet subtle finish and is immensely satisfying.


Jeni McConnell

In late autumn last year I visited Norfolk for a weekend and whilst there I spent time watching rooks and crows out in the expansive fields; a very much different place from the urban sprawl of our local area.

Here birds seem to have a greater freedom; the whole sky above them and the undulating expanse of rich agricultural land edged with thick green wooded areas connected by stitched lines of thick hedgerows.  I found sitting watching a group of perhaps two hundred birds intensely calming as they wheeled and turned, rattled and dropped ground-wards, only to shift and twist upwards as if a rising gust of air had lifted them skywards once more. 

Yet in this calm there was a visual madness of their individual movement quite at odds with my peace; angular, jittery, uncoordinated, frantic.  It was hard to connect this rhythm-less tangle of day-time flight with the sleek, smooth dawn and dusk movements so intriguingly explained in Crow Country by Mark Cocker.

To continue my research at home I have spent some time contemplating Cocker's writing in the midst of a small rookery in the woods at Grappenhall Heys.  I have become enticed and enchanted with this place, a place where these birds and countless before them have reared their young for many many years.  Their croaky utterings seem louder on a windy day, rattled and cajoled by the gusting breeze that toss their jagged nests to and fro, lifting their drifted conversations, they seem not to care that we are in their place.  Their tossed out nesting materials lie about for any passing arms to collect and carry homeward, displacing them, moving from one significant place to another.


Val Jackson

My work for this exhibition is part of an exploration of personal narrative and the ways in which it illuminates changes in identity as they develop over time. Each individual’s identity is compounded through a lifetime personal narrative. Each separate chapter has a different mirror to hold up. This piece features an extract from the wartime journal of a young woman in the WRAF. It contains a day to day memoir of her life during a time of important developments in national history. It reflects both her contemporary activities & her dreams of the future. The work examines the point when her wartime identity begins to merge into her post-war housewife incarnation and the ways in which these two entities overshadow each other.


Cathy Rounthwaite

My narrative journey began by exploring rural customs and folk tales. There the intelligence of crows is recognised, but they are also seen as dark, unlucky, an omen of death.  The term “a murder of crows” can be traced back to the 15th century. Old folklore tells of groups of crows essentially holding court over members of their flock that had committed offenses - if they decide against the "defendant" crow, then the rest of the flock swoops down on it and kills it.  Allegedly these gatherings can still be witnessed. 

Detested by farmers, gory gibbets are still used to ward off the birds from crops and protect young livestock. 

This work builds on earlier lino cuts referencing woodblock illustrations in cautionary tales.  Here I continue to explore the image of the crow in print as a dark foreboding creature, building up textures and surfaces to create atmosphere and reference environment.


Jennifer Kenworthy

This work explores my fascination with the changing landscapes of my surroundings; both in England and more recently Belgium. I capture these changes through a range of expressive marks, looking closely at the colour and form found in nature.

Through a combination of pencil and print this piece of work will convey a new landscape and narrative that is created from real and familiar landscapes visited during my time in England and Belgium. Exploring in part the concept what it is to feel at home in a foreign county. The piece will depict fleeting moments in time that are suggestive interpretations of the rural and evocative landscape rather than a representational depiction.


Rachel James 2013

“By late June…… ”

My back ground is in textiles but now I find myself using a wide variety of materials: paper, books, plastic bags, wire and fibres; and a wide variety of techniques: printing, painting, manipulating, burning, weaving, crochet and machine embroidery. I am often inspired by natural objects and their transient beauty.

The materials and techniques I use depend on the essence of the object I am trying to portray.  In Mark Cocker’s Crow Country his descriptive narrative of the rookery led me to explore the fundamental nature of the rook: its appearance, sound and habits.  I was attracted by the rhythmic, yet haphazard, shapes in rooks’ nests after they have been deserted and I have integrated the narrative in this structure.


Jacqui Chapman

Snow Crows- oil on canvas, 154 x 107 x 4 cm

“In all these moments of woodland intimacy, the bare trees rising sheer on all sides, I cannot avoid the feeling of a landscape watching. It fills me with a curious but delicious sensation that somehow I am not alone. I move through the trees, almost self-consciously, and all around the shadows of the rooks swirl in a perpetual cycle that is tied to my own brief passage below."

Crow Country, Mark Cocker p 105, 106

This passage reflects my own experience when looking at the canopy for a glimpse of back birds, restlessly swirling above the line drawings of trees, never settling.

In contrast the hushed, snowy woodland below where I walked alone as flurries fell about me, I understood that to be quiet in nature is one the most profound simple pleasures I know.

I have tried to capture this fleeting moment in time in all its senses.

Grappenhall Heyes Walled Garden- Poem

This poem was written in a creative writing workshop led by Sue Dodd for Markmakers artists at Grappenhall Heyes Walled Garden on Saturday 9 February 2013. We each chose a metre of space to respond to using all our senses. I use all five in my own painting and found it liberating to use words for a change. My metre of space included the gate entrance to the wintery walled garden. In setting the poem out I played with the typography creating visual metaphors.


Fiona Philipps

My work is a response to the book ‘Crow Country’ by Mark Cocker along with a day spent at Grappenhall walled gardens, woodland and rookery. I am inspired by the structures and biological systems of the natural world, some of which I observed during our time in the woods.

The woods seemed to me like three different worlds: the treetops, the ground, and the subterranean. Each world is connected and inhabited by many different species, yet each one is separate to some degree. I have subsequently produced mixed media work that is informed by the rich and complex structures of these environments and the writing of Mark Cocker.



I have always had a love of nature and my artistic practice is deeply rooted within Art and Ecology and for me, it is about forming a new vocabulary that reveals and renews our kinship with the natural world, exposing elements that every day, go unnoticed.

Mark Cocker’s Crow Country presents a fusion of acute natural historical observation, sharing poetic writings and experiences – being ‘true’ to nature. Sourcing materials is almost a daily ritual, becoming all consuming, and to understand this need can only be resolved in the art of making and sharing. For me the landscape is not clearly seen or understood until it has been experienced, exposed, and presented through manipulation, layering, fusing techniques and processes that draw attention to the environment, giving nature a true value.


Allison John

I am a Printmaker based in the North West of England. My work  includes many different aspects of Printmaking, including Linocut, Woodcut, Rhenalon Etching, Monoprint and Collograph.

I am interested in how even the smallest events in our lives have significance and consequences, for as Michael Cunningham says

" There are no insignificant people, objects or events, only insufficient ways of looking at them"*

What we are is shaped by the day-to-day small things that create the world within which we live. Everyone's experiences and memories are different and this makes each one of us unique. This current work explores through Collograph and Encaustic, the daily world within which I live. Those spaces, both physical and psychological, that I occupy and which have an influence on the way I see and experience things. They are not just about the physicality of spaces, people, or the events themselves, but about the way they impact on me, both visually and emotionally. These ideas are combined within the prints with images of the natural world, emphasising my place within the order of things, within the 'bigger picture' and the significance that this has for me.

*Michael Cunningham. Specimen Days. 2005. publ. Harper Perennial

 On TOUR...There is something disconcerting about a dead zebra...” at Warrington Museum – Friday 28th September to Friday 27th October 2012.

`Dead Zebra` has become apart of the Warrington Contemporary Arts Festival, the theme is `Narratives` and exhibiting at the same time is artist, Iain Andrews both exhibiting in the Red Gallery...

 "Exhibition 2012... There is something disconcerting about a dead zebra...”

For the past two years Markmakers have been exploring the concept of narratives. Reading and drawing, investigating and creating, members of the group have produced a diverse range of responses exploring story, folklore, personal history and the threads that bring it all together….’

Here we present our responses and ask you to look and contemplate, question and engage with works in relief, print, drawing, animation?, sculpture, installation, textiles and ceramics.  This diverse and intriguing exhibition is coupled with many of the narratives and books that were our starting point, left for you to peruse in the gallery to experience the same actions of reading and imagining, as we have done before starting to make our works.

The exhibition title is the opening line from the short story; Farewell, Robert Redford, written by Jamal Mahjoub and published in The Obituary Tango, a selection of writings from the Caine prize for African writing 2006.  An intriguing opening line which immediately caught our attention, and we hope yours too.  Can you find our zebra on the exhibition page?

(Markmakers is supported by Halton Borough Council Arts Development Team)


Claire Weetman...

71 Steps (after David Nash) documents an interaction with Nash's installation of the same name at Yorkshire Sculpture Park during a Markmakers visit there in 2011.  Claire's work documents journeys and movement, and this book includes drawings of the 71 stones that she collected from the 71 steps of the art work.  Claire intends to complete the story of these 71 stones, by returning them to the steps during the course of this exhibition, where she will make a series of photographs documenting the act.

 Please click on the thumbnails to enlarge to pic`s


Cathy Rounthwaite...

My narrative is of

.….. a journey

…… place

…… an event

…… a myth

…… a cautionary tale

 Please click on the thumbnails to enlarge to pic`s


Jacqui Chapman...

As an emigrant I am interested in landscapes both familiar and foreign and through a personal dialogue in art explore the relationship in us between identity and territory demonstrating that they are integral to the sum of our individuality.

The poem Christmas in Africa by Jeni Couzyn has been a favourite of my mother, sisters and me since the 70’s. Her use of painterly language makes real the journey we also took every Christmas leaving the mine dumps in the city to visit my grandmother who lived on the Wild Coast in a very old, partly tin house overlooking the booming breakers. For as long as I can remember, the sea has been calling me.

(Copyright © Jeni Couzyn, Life By Drowning, Christmas in Africa, Bloodaxe book.





Maria Tarn…

After the Wall Fell

My inspiration came following a recent trip to Berlin where I visited the Wall Museum. There were many photographs depicting the division of the city into East and West zones starting in 1961.  Many other countries in Eastern Europe were also separated from the West behind the Iron Curtain.

After the wall fell many people migrated in search of the western culture.  In the more remote parts of Eastern Europe some people remained unchanged by the historic events.  They chose to stay in the place of their birth and live a traditional lifestyle that was deep rooted in their culture having continued for centuries.

I read the lines of a poem by Golczynski a Polish poet who said…

When the wind of history blows

The people like lovely birds

Grow wings ……..

and in 1989 for a few glorious months some flew.

A girl in Leipzig is reported to have said, ’I felt that I could fly’ ….. a true sense of freedom pervaded .


I used collage materials and free machine embroidery. I depicted the emigrating people as the lovely birds heading west over the roof tops in search of new experiences and greater freedom. The people remaining are depicted as flightless birds covered in traditional folk embroidery patterns representing their heritage and culture which keeps them firmly rooted on the ground and in the place of their birth.


Judith Ferns

In my reading around the narrative theme I have become preoccupied with the idea of shelter, containment and the general calm to be found in nature. The poems of John Clare give an insight into all aspects of nature and country life, the words have been woven into nests.


Jeni McConnell

Rooky explanations

I was really hooked in by the Crow Country book, in particular the way Mark Cocker makes use of language in such an expressive way to bring to life a place that he so clearly has an immense passion for, and to the birds that frequent it.flapping


wind rustled rattling treetops

twiggy resting places

your loud retorts echo

through this place

and passing time

alerting those who come close

the interjecting rebounded sounds

tells tales of passing years

the homecoming

the storytelling of rooks


in this place

The installation of coats and twigs is titled 'Where two ways collide', which references both the embedded connection of these birds to a particular place as 'home', but also to the sinister, darker side of the black crow family and our connections to representations of death, and loss.  The coats hang and one stands around a placement of twigs collected from the ground around the rookery, twiggy bits that have fallen from 'their trees'.  I would have liked to coats to remain facing inwards but struggled without making it obvious so have left them to turn and face other works as the air shifts almost imperceptably around the gallery space.


Amanda Oliphant

Thou art in Trees-

Thy Strength

Thy Beauty


All in Trees…

Trees hold Thy light,

Thy shade,

Thy consolation,


Thou art in Trees.

Man owes most things to Trees

Each day with Tree he lives,

Until that final hour

When quiet in Tree he lies.

From: In Praise of Trees - An Anthology for Friends chosen by Nancy Price Frederick Muller Ltd London 1953 (no longer in publication)


Sharon Lelonek

I’ve been reading a book called: `Space and Place` by Yi-Fu Tuan….`The Perspective of Experience…   This book draws attention to questions that humanist have posed with regard to space and place…`Manmade space can refine human feeling and perception` But how do we define such sensations in art and how does art influence the viewer?

In my Prints I wanted to create symmetrical shapes to attract the viewer’s attention; they are invited to explore the visual properties, to challenge the eye and to investigate the space in which the shapes are transcending, an artistic imagination splitting up patterns creating depths of dimensions. My sculpture Garage Door Due to the economic situation I wanted to recycle used materials. Inspired to use our discarded garage doors, they are handmade and attention to detail perfect, and steeped in history. This structure symbolizes a past and most importantly creating a new beginning. Creating this structure there was no rules it’s a basic feature of design.

But how do my Prints and Sculpture  influence people’s awareness and how do we responded to it, does it appeal to the senses, feeling and subconscious mind; and how do we view the presence of it being here in this gallery space.


Cath Ball

The idea of crows 'breaking in' came to me after reading Mark Cocker's Crow Country, as well as the ghost element in Murakami's essay, The Mirror


O.A. Jones

The low lying, waterlogged and yet yielding landscape of the borders of England and North Wales intrigues me. My cycle rides through it are transitory. I breathe in its moist atmosphere, feel its earthy textures, relive its energy, and then move on. Echoing the landscape, my work is built up in layers of intuitive marks and memories in a mixed media approach married with research into laser cut etching on glass and paper.


Cliff Richards

In the failing light they are mere silhouettes and even the birds that have landed on the ground, wandering among the jagged stalks of stubble, create a simple, fretted chiaroscuro of pale and dark.

But all cease briefly to resemble birds. They become wind blown rags or scraps of paper.

Each occasion I see these protean swirls rise they act like ink blot test drawing images out of my unconscious. Sometimes they seem like something you saw before you left the womb, before your eyes first opened, an entropic vision buried deep beneath the avalanche of waking experience: black dust motes sinking steadily through the gentle oil of sleep.

From Crow Country by Mark Cocker


Carys Anne Hughes

On baby's grave, 

The innocent little one comes by deed

to the sorrowful grave below;

In a day that is yet to come

arriving in health in paradise above.

This is a loose translation of the poem I have found in the Welsh book my mother got me from the little book shop in Blaenau Ffestiniog and it was already scribbled in. The poem for me signifies re birth from pain and loss and how we as people record this is by narrative in folk tales. Once we scratch under the surface of the best tales the narrative is all about warning, triumph over evil if we toe the line. My small pieces for this exhibition are part of my ongoing study into folk tales they are individual pieces and ever evolving.

Not suitable for children also explores how we view beauty! Birthmarks used to be considered as the mark of the devil! 


Angela Sidwell

 ..“ And the rocks may melt and the seas may

                      burn If I should not return

Oh don't you see that lonesome dove,

Sitting in the ivy tree,

She's weeping for her own true love

Just as I shall weep for mine” ..

Extract from Fare Thee Well (Ten Thousand Miles)

18th century English folk ballad

Our contact with wild birds and animals show us mere snippets of their lives. What are their stories? Love, life, loss, survival. There is so much narrative that we don't see.

I know a robin. He watches me and sings. This tough guy now only has one leg. Life is hard. I have watched him struggle and survive.

A pile of feathers on the ground. The return of the House Martins. We exist in a world of stories that we will never know. 


Jane Copeman

The inhabitants of the rookery are most active at that point in the year when winter veers away and when the British landscape finally tilts downhill towards us in all its temperate softness.

It is at that moment when the earth and our own bones – and our loins - loosen. Small wonder that the rooks’ sky-scraping colony with all its hectic and turbulent clamour comes to our minds as a constant metaphor for life’s reawakening.

From Crow Country by Mark Cocker


Val Jackson

This installation is a study of identity and the ways in which it changes as life progresses. Clothing is a strong signifier in defining identity and garments are often retained as mementos of a particular period in life. This is used by the author of the story selected as inspiration, Margaret Atwood’s “Hair Jewellery”, where the protagonist discusses how her being is defined by her clothing at particular times.

The three figures represent childhood, adolescence and late middle age and the metallic surface describes how echoes form the each identity a person has passed through continue to be reflected in them as they age.


Sue Archer


Susan Meyehoff-Sharp

"Exhibition 2008... Tidal: Markmakers Exploring The Mersey"

29 March - 10 May 2008

Tidal exhibition focused on the river Mersey by artist collective Markmakers, which took place in their home borough of Halton at award winning Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn.

This show was the culmination of two years of research by Markmakers who have all taken inspiration from the River Mersey which flows from the Peak District, through Manchester and out to sea in Liverpool, running through their home borough of Halton. The result is a varied exhibition of sculpture, paintings, photographs, prints and textiles which explores the famous 110km long waterway. Markmakers chose the Mersey as a common theme for their work as it provided a wealth of subject matter from rich wildlife to industrial heritage.

This Tidal exhibition sees a new textile and collage installation by Val Jackson, copper sculptures by Tony Evans and Sue Sharples, a wall painting using mud from the Mersey by Cliff Richards and a host of other works in photography, print, wood, felt and ceramics. Each work has taken its inspiration from the river Mersey in some way, whether from its people and stories, its landscape, the movement of the water or found objects emerging from the river bed.