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.
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’.
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!