Painting in Schaldewage

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Our Studio Open Day…painting by Sarah R. Key (left) two of mine on the right

Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins.  Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced.  Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands.  The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.

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So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location.  Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean?  I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation.  The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences.  And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.

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Proper Lovely…

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As anyone reading this will know we are living for the month in a small bedsit on the harbour in Scalloway on the Shetlands and its proper lovely as we Devon folk say.  In fact when the sun shines (and we’ve more good days than not) it reminds one of how the West Country seemed to be when I was a child.  Nowadays the crowds down in Devon & Cornwall make it harder to love but back then before motorways etc.  Anyway enough of my misremembering as, apart from sitting staring out the window or visiting unspoilt and empty beaches, we are here to work.

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On Nesting Fault, Acrylic & watercolour on paper, 120 x 30 cm.

But the rub is that you start to think about what you do and how you go about it.  Yes I know one should be doing that all the time anyway…but holidays just exacerbate this…and added to which there are fewer materials and supports to hand…and ideas get stuck in your head in ways that just don’t happen at home.  Its all rather confusing!  So here I am rethinking, tinkering really, with both the Wonky Geometry and the notion I had arrived with (outlined a few weeks back) and fetching up with something that’s quite a departure.  Should I be worried or concerned?

A good day’s work?

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I’ve written before on the subject of listening to music whilst working and today I’ve spent pretty much the whole day in the studio.  Usually it’s instrumental music only (I find it difficult to concentrate with lyrics) but sometimes the process is just laborious.  Like here where I’m colouring in forms ahead of the later stages.  And given my location the most appropriate rock music seemed to be about the only post millennial UK rock band I’ve much time for (most of them seem like second rate retreads of the 70’s – must be my age I guess).  I’m talking of British Sea Power whose work – especially the longer work outs like those on Man of Aran or True Adventures from Open Season or Once More Now from Valhalla Dancehall I like a lot.

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Then again the second and third stages of this piece were a lot less satisfactory (as above!).  I think I can still rescue it but it’s hard when you’ve put in such effort but that’s often the way with painting so maybe it was a day well spent.  In any event the music’s been a treat – and if you know their work (and the location I’m in – see previous posts) so appropriate to the context.

Its Grim Up North…

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at least that’s what we’ve been taught to believe.  But its a well kept secret that there is great weather to be had up here in Scalloway.  Certainly over these past two (first) days of our adventure over the month of August.  So far its been azure blue skies and full on sunshine.  The Met Office has officially confirmed that Shetland had more hours of sunshine than Cornwall in July and so far August is following suit.

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Not that we’ve been idle…the studio has been tidied and arranged to suit our purposes…and the beginnings of work underway – despite the absurdly wonderful context if you step through the doorway!

 

60 degrees north

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So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth.  For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials.  You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other.  Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining).  Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan!  Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.

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And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry.  Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant!  Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.

The effects of travel…

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on one can be a wee bit disorientating.  One evening you may find yourself wandering along a track across a field in Northern France…less than a few hours since racing through the Alps (excepting the queue for the San Gotthard/Gottardo tunnel).

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In his Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton writes that travel is one cure of it “for peregrination charmes our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled, a kinde of prisoner”.  Whether or not one subscribes to that rather extreme view it is undeniable that different perspectives emerge from moving about a bit.  For example setting off from a small village in Pas De Calais this morning (the first round of the French Presidential Election) I was struck by the relative calm of it all.  My straw poll of one elicited a response that it was “tres important” but it would have been easy to miss that fact of it at all.  There was a single billboard in the town centre with a single poster for each of the eleven candidates and only one location in town where someone had fly posted three posters for Francois Asselineau (a hard line Frexiteer).  Even those newspapers that I saw were treating the event with restraint, and though most TV channels at one point or another on Saturday night had coverage it certainly didn’t dominate the schedules as it does here. Indeed there isn’t a sense of hysteria but a sober responsible process at work.  For what its worth though my sense of it is that Le Pen may well do better than expected in Round One and might just do enough overall to cause an upset.

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She’ll certainly pick up Asselineau’s supporters with their very direct secondary slogan (above in yellow…’Frexit – Protection des Salaries’).  And I guess that may well be a significant part of the reason that the Tories will romp home here with a stonking majority.  I was going to follow up this observation with something incredibly rude and partisan about my fellow countrymen and women but I’ll let it be…I try not to do politics here! So instead some nice pictures of locations on our holidays instead!

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Avenue de Lacs, Ardres, France
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View towards Barisello, Lunigiana, Italy
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Vines above Verpiana, Lunigiana, Italy
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Champagne Country, France is a big open landscape!