A Funny and Wonderful Man

This page is our dedication to Doug Agnew, co-founder of Funny Wonders, who sadly passed away on 8th February 2016.
If you would like to contribute anything please get in touch.

Douglas W. E. Agnew

11/3/1944 – 8/3/2016

What can we say about Doug? I have no doubt, that whatever it is, he could have come up with a better way of saying it! I think above all things he was a words-man. Yes, he could create wonderful pieces of art and theatre, but they all represented words and thoughts. He wrote explanations, perhaps better described as reasons, for all of his pieces and his shadow scenes conveyed story. He gave perspective and wise contemplation to all those around him as his mind navigated the philosophy and appearance of the human existence. A true artist. In the interest of preserving some of his words, below are some of his writings on all things art.

We saw Doug be many things – an artist, a puppet maker, a teacher, a photographer, a musician, a philosopher, a hair icon, a husband, a Dad, a grandDoug, a great grandDoug, a cook of scrumptious soups, an art critic, a host of fantastic parties, a Green Man and perhaps the greatest ever doodler. He was an amazing doodler… any piece of paper put before him (typically a meeting agenda) gradually transformed into his weird and wonderful imaginings. When I think of him he is doodling. Wherever he is, I hope he has a pen and a piece of paper. He was our ideas man, and man did he have a lot of ideas.

on shadow puppetry

I am a freelance artist/designer who came to puppetry from a fine art background. My second love has always been theatre. I found myself in Shadowland the day my pictures got up and started walking about. I back-lit my field of vision and had all the resources of stained glass. Textures of materials were revealed from within. Then they moved and I was transported through the screen like Alice through the Looking Glass.

I have worked on the idea of a multi-arts core curriculum for forty years. For most of that time as Head of Art and expressive arts in schools, creative learning seems to be an idea who’s time has come at last and so I relish the opportunity to bring puppetry into school as the ultimate multi-arts cross curricular creative agent.

on Funny Wonders (written in 2010)

​”Views from the Chair”

As I look out of my window at the lilac tree the ‘darling buds of May’ are clearly to be seen beneath the ice. It has been a bleak time as Funny Wonders found itself without funds and our leaders once more threatened by serious health issues. Suddenly it seemed that our two year successional plan would have to be achieved in as many months. But a few weeks later we have received financial support from several sources and Chris has made a wonderful recovery. We now find ourselves in a position to initiate new projects and developed ongoing schemes. And so the New Year is one of great opportunities for Funny Wonders.

Over the years those kids [from the original workshops] have been growing up. Some members are now emerging from university as young arts professionals. So a new team is coming together to take the company forward to a future as funny and wonderful as the adventure that Chris and I have enjoyed so much.

We are not disappearing but rather adopting different roles. We are now professional artists in our own right. We will have direct input into the company as appropriate in training and mentoring. We remain ‘guide, philosopher and friend’ to Wonderers everywhere.

We all live in a beautiful pea-green submarine and our friends are all-aboard. Many more of them live next door. And the band begins to play.

on his art (written 28th November 1966)

“My Art”

“My art is rather conversation than a series of lectures, by which I mean to imply that subject matter converges from random imagery on an unforeseen conclusion. It is contemplative and completion consists not in the answering of a consciously posed question but in the eventual emergence of that question. As when friends meet, myself and I may fall into didactic debate, narrative or seemingly nebulous intercourse as the mood takes us. But it is the mood which takes us and the intercouse which is valuable rather than any finite conclusions which may or may not be reached. This communion with self is a common activity among all thinking men. ‘I think therefore I am’. So that for me the purpose of my art is to externalise in concrete visible form some emblematic reflection of my spirit that I may converse with it. The formation of this other protagonist is initself a searching out of duality and hence, unease. But, as said, the completion of the work does not answer this unease but asks the question which may indicate its derivation. This question inaugurates the next stage of the process which is in the mind of the beholder. It is but the first link in a chain-reaction. Herefore that chain-reaction is as unique to the observer as was the first link to the artist who forged it.

The artist himself is also the witness of his own work though not always the most perceptive. As such his next work and those to come each bringing into focus a question may, by inference, answer the unanswerable. This is a gradual process which none complete in life except those who complete life for this process is life. This goal has been called many things but for me the most meaningful is ‘death to self’, the resolution of duality, the realisation of unity with all in which self becomes meaningless. Conversly, in surviving realisation of self, unity remains meaningless.

Why then, this egocentric activity which is my art? The ego is one’s only means of access to knowledge of unity. One does not conquer territory by ignoring it nor govern that of which one is ignorant. To transcend self requires perfect knowledge of self. Perfect knowledge of self is beyond the reach of intellect alone. It is Art, the fruit of the intuition processed by the intellect and dished up by the Artist in command of these forces which nourish the soul in its journey.”