Knocked sideways…


I’ve had quite a time of it recently…several bouts of mystery illness culminating in a nasty flu that still has something of a grip after a week…picked up ironically at our local A&E whilst I was waiting on a family member who was ill at the time!  Best to stay away from hospitals if you can it seems.  Today I’m feeling just a little more human, enough to review progress on the various projects I have on the go (regulars will know I keep far too many differing things in play than is sensible).  Here is the second batch of the L’Histoire De L’Eau pictures – part two of the Landscape & Memory trilogy based very loosely on Schama’s book.  Working with these is a curious process…whilst I have already chosen my eighteen texts some of the individual panels immediately suggest which one should accompany it but others much less so, to the point where some have to undergo drastic reworking to make them applicable.  And of course as each text is taken this gets harder so that eventually (at least with part one, Waldgeschitchen ) I am forced to write out each remaining one and shift them around the panels till I can make it work (or in one or two extreme cases replace them altogether).  I guess some might say – quite reasonably – this seems a cock-a-mamey way of going about things but its my way for better or worse.



IMG_0105in the past comprised a lot more activity and required a good deal more energy.  Nowadays the spaces I have over the festive season allow for greater reflection and the opportunity to catch up on the production of work – in this case Osiris Hailed from what is now – fanfare – L’Histoire de L’Eau – well I gave section one of Landscape and Memory a title in German so now why not French? So I’m now 7 into this second of three sections with 7 or 8 more on the go.  A big push post this holiday season & part two may be cracked.  But of course that leaves an awful lot of other bodies of work up in the air…so I guess I need to get back to full fitness and, crucially, get my work plan back in place…but that sounds ‘orribly like New Year resolutions – and I hate them!


back at work…though I’m still not entirely well but good enough to give some attention to the various bodies of work I have on the go at present.  I’ve written before of how I’m pathologically incapable of focussing on one thing at a time.  And so I just looked back through these pages to see when I last mentioned the Water series.  These are following on from the Waldgeschitchen series and will comprise the second group of three such works that will make up my musings on Simon Schama’s Landscape & Memory.  It was way back in February – so at this rate of progress this project may outlast its creator!  Still over the past few hours I’ve completed the sixth of this second group of eighteen.


So I’m trying to ‘put in the hours’ as one of my colleagues used to say to me when I was pressing him about spending more time teaching rather than making – and he was right there really is no substitute for being in the space and getting on with it if you want good outcomes.

It always intrigues me as to how others go about the disciplining of their practice, after all you read often about how, for example, Henry Moore, had a very defined studio routine and how legendary is the amount of time, say, Frank Auerbach spends in his room and it’s easy to see with some artists output that they must have been very focussed and hard working.  Then again we all know those who do rather little but it goes a very long way indeed…



An amusing byproduct (at least it tickled me) of our adventures in Scalloway has been my ‘body series). Occasioned initially by the ominous floating glove that had attached itself to a clump of weed that – because of the good weather – didn’t move from beneath our window above the harbour. It then became obligatory wherever we went to spot gloves and the odd boot that had fetched up in the water or along the shoreline and take a picture.


These were then doctored to add the body that was attached. Over time fifteen of these pictures emerged and were we to have gone searching I don’t doubt more would have done so. Of course around a working harbour like Scalloway its inevitable that a few go missing occasionally. But there’s a more serious side to it as the locations tended to be those where the general flotsam and jetsam gathered. So take a look at what’s there and you see just what is filling up our oceans… Every one of the seemingly pristine beaches has its pile of detritus washed up from the sea (that is collected up to keep them looking that way) and its becoming a major global problem. So much so that my nonsense could in time to come turn out to have been prophetic…unless the upbeat elements of this Telegraph report are right.


Painting in Schaldewage

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.


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’.


Trawling Black Water…

02Given that it has been raining cats & dogs for over eighteen hours now there’s plenty of opportunity to get on with the work!  So I have at last finished at least one piece to my satisfaction.  It derives its title from both the context in which it has been produced (on the waterfront here in Scalloway) and a poem by the late Peter Redgrove entitled On Losing One’s Black Dog.  The view from our French Windows reminds me a little of the time when, albeit briefly, I knew Peter as a student at Falmouth where he was, luckily for us, the Complementary Studies tutor.  He was very finely attuned to the Cornish environment and spoke eloquently and imaginatively about the ‘Black Dog’ in its several senses, one of which (not the one referred to directly in the poem) concerned the melancholia that descends on all things Cornish in the winter months.  After today’s performance here (see photo below) during August one can only imagine what mid-winter brings to the folk here on Shetland!