Given 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
I started the new year (it already seems a lifetime ago) with a plan. Yesterday I took a look and thought it was going west fast. It is dither that does for me…take a look at the Very Like Jazz new panels for example. I’m pretty sure at least half of them are fairly close but I’m dithering over them, fiddling about with the grounds and then taking out a shape here or altering its colour there. So with February being the deadline for four then I need to make some decisions. But (and its a big one) the ‘plan’ also suggests that by the end of the month I’ll have two Water paintings finished, two Paintings Standing Up resolved, and five Playground Of The Midlands pictures completed. And that doesn’t include the work that continues on the maps and a couple other things knocking around the studio that haven’t even got to a base camp yet! I know I could just try working on one thing at a time but that just isn’t my way of rolling…
So this morning I thought I’d try and get a grip…or at least a foothold. So back to the Water pictures then – and (I suspect partly as a result of no alcohol and a fairly decent nights sleep) glory be at least two of this series finished.
The New Year thing rather passed me by this year (and the Christmas thing as regards wishing several of my overseas friends well)…but it is, of course, and however much one tries to prevent it, a time for a bit of reflection. It’s sobering to think how much has happened over this year past and what it means. I try to avoid too much social comment and politics here but I’d thoroughly recommend this post from Brian Eno. It seems at least a little more optimistic than most! But I’m also a grouch so can’t help recalling that old gag about Enver Hoxha who threw a lavish Xmas party for his Communist Cronies in Albania in 1967 saying they should enjoy it as although this year was the worst on record next year would be even harder (actually Jeremy Corbyn quoted this at a Labour party in 2015 and got roundly criticised for it so I must apologise to all my Albanian readers immediately).
Anyway onwards and…well..upwards if we can. One of my little projects for the year ahead comes out of my current obsession for tidying and de-cluttering (doomed to failure for such an inveterate hoarder). Up popped this small volume so lets start off with an easy stroll with the ambition to polish off all 25 walks within over the year ahead. As it turns out Dave & Beryl (the authors) are a wee bit economical with the quoted distances (their 5kms turns out to be over 7) and the guide gives no warnings re. mud and animal excreta – cows and horses with bowel issues methinks! But on a pretty glorious day for the beginning of January a joy to be out and about nonetheless. Happy New Year folks!
Having completed a suite of paintings loosely related to section one of Landscape & Memory it struck me in conversation at the opening at Harrington Mill that I could, indeed should, proceed to section two on Water. And, I guess that means I’ll now have to undertake Rock, the third section of this fascinating book. I’d previously read the Wood section during my Masters study at De Montfort University but never, until now, got around to the rest of the book. So far the Water section has focussed exclusively on the great rivers and aspects of them. I don’t know why but I’d imagined maybe it would have been Coasts and Lakes…perhaps they’ll come later (though I’m well into this part of the book now).
Of course there is a temptation to think in terms of maps again and as one observer of the first part of the project noted recently thats never too far from my thinking. There are other equally obvious image tropes such as bridges and boats and then there is the disturbances of the weather on the surface and how these may affect the rhythms of the brush. I’m open to any and all of these but as I often stress there is no conscious connections between the individual pictures and any one or all of the above. Far more important is the spontaneous reactions to the basic collaged forms that I use as the starting point.
In Wood these initial pieces were arranged around the perimeter of the papers with a crude and simple idea of woodland hemming one in. In Water I’ve laid the pieces out along an imaginary upright central spine so the flow proceeds up and down disturbed by these casually placed torn pieces.
The pieces come from my once substantial stock of failed works on paper. When I started there was quite a big box of them…but over the course of the Water series this is substantially reduced! I’ve had to go back through the various plan chests and purloin more pieces that never really worked out (though some I’m now documenting before tearing them up). This isn’t too difficult as all the drawers in all five chests are stuffed to the gunnels and I’m pretty hot at generating failure!
It also has other benefits too. Like most people as I get older I’m thinking to rationalise my lifetimes stuff. A friend has just written eloquently about this very topic. So going back over the work amassed during nearly fifty years of creative endeavour is both cathartic and practically useful. And also interesting to me in terms of the drivers behind that practice. I find myself coming back to some of those old works and thinking there may be aspects that I can still use now. I’m thinking that over the next couple months maybe I’ll post a few here with thoughts about their validity or otherwise.
In fact I’ll start now…this is a group eight drawings I made in a studio over a garage in St. Ives. We’d driven over seven hundred miles in a day to get there…and meet up with my pal, the sculptor Paul Mason. He had been given the studio to accompany a residency in Barbara Hepworth’s studio attached to Tate St. Ives. It must have been in the mid 1990’s. Together we worked in the studio for a couple days.
Wishing to avoid the whole Cornish landscape thing I produced these eight working off the pretty basic idea of the ice cream cone – my two very small sons were pretty obsessed with them alongside their passion for surfing. I’d stored them away and forgotten them as at the time they didn’t exactly ‘fit’ with my work at the time. Now, besides thinking they have some nostalgic value, I’m not sure they are amongst the ones I’ll tear up.
Its fascinating when you find yourself doing something you never imagined you would…and very rewarding too. When Mindy came into my life less than three months back I was mildly fearful. I never was one for pets…and the idea of a dog in my life was definitely not on my agenda. But she has turned out to be a joy – I couldn’t face the idea of a yapping, jumpy dog in the house – but she’s so relaxed and well behaved that its a pleasure to have her around in the studio. But its the lunchtime walk thats invaluable, not only because it means I get some decent additional physical exercise (though goodness knows I need it), but also because of the thinking space in the painting process. Of course there’s plenty of that in front of the work too. After all I doubt few studio based artists spend more than a fraction of their practice actually wielding the pencil, brush or chisel or whatever but far more gawping at the work and pondering the big question – what next?
But the time away from the work is precious too. Its the churn that counts. On our trips around the village I get to ponder the important questions about the really tricky aspects of the process…the choice of colour for the shape, the texture of the colour – will it be a glaze or solid, the brush size…or is it all damned and am I going to scrub, tear or sand it out completely (or just partially). All this is stewed in the old grey matter and sometimes decisions emerge – or if they don’t then the brain exercise at least helps when the fateful moment comes when you are back in front of it and have to act.