I am finding myself more and more inspired by nature, the landscape itself and by the language and writings concerning the natural world. I have recently finished reading ‘Meadowland: the private life of an English field’ by John Lewis-Stempel, and this book introduced me to the writings and poems of Thomas Traherne (1636 – 1674), an English, poet, religious writer and theologian. Traherne wrote about his spiritual discoveries in ‘Centuries of Mediations’, and the following excerpt, highlighted in ‘Meadowland’ really resonated with me –
‘You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it you are earnest to persuade others to enjoy it too.’
Although I am an avid used of social media, I find myself more and more, longing to be out in the landscape, to reconnect with what is really important….and to that end I have recently spent the weekend in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park – partly a birthday celebration, partly time ‘to stand and stare’….
…and although I am not presumptuous enough to imagine my artistic efforts will persuade others to enjoy the landscape, I hope, in some small way, they convey my love for the natural world.
Monday finds me in a reflective mood… among a myriad of people I follow on social media, one is the artist Lucy Marks. Every Friday she posts a vlog/blog highlighting areas of interest, a topic for discussion…..and a couple of these posts have made me question myself…
One vlog was concerned with finding your own style and anyone who follows this blog effort of mine will know this is an area I struggle with. Influences abound in the art world; we have all seen artist’s work that we love, and one trap that we, as artists, mustn’t fall into is that of slavishly copying. Techniques, colour palettes, media… these can all be adapted, but it’s finding your own way of utilising them that makes your work unique, recognisable…
The other vlog of Lucy’s that piqued my interest was about why we paint, what are we trying to say, what is the philosophy that underpins our work….
Now, no way do I profess to be a deeply philosophical thinker, (some of that stuff at uni, such as why is a table a table, went straight over my head…) but even I recognise that, as artists, we are all trying to say something, even if it is ‘this is what I can see in front of me’…
For my final show at uni I produced an installation that incorporated sound called ‘Connecting Threads’..
…apart from the odd sketch which was more of a diagram for the aforementioned, I did no painting whatsoever….and although, I successfully justified/situated the above Threads, I find categorising my painting more difficult….or perhaps I am over-thinking things – why do I have to label my work at all?
Much easier for me is to say what interests me….
I have always loved being outdoors; lately I have become fascinated with the literature and language we use to describe nature and the landscape…. and have found the books of Dominick Tyler (Uncommon Ground) and Robert MacFarlane a joy to read – for me, Landmarks transports me to the high mountains, the fenlands, the woods, even those in-between areas…I think I have said in a previous post about how his writings have made me stop and look at the details in the landscape, and having a language to describe it makes life so much easier…so, with all this reflecting taking place, and spring having sprung, I took myself off for a walk by the River Soar…
…the reeds stood like giant cotton wool buds….
I sat and listened, church bells, a distant cockerel – a little late in the morning perhaps – the ‘flap flap’ silent soar of the pigeons, a lonely mallard squawking…the gentle flow of the river, ripples glinting in the sun…and as I walked along the desire path – so much better than ‘shortcut’.…I blew a kiss to the two magpies I disturbed – is that part of a song or an old wives’ tale – and watched a butterfly dance along… The path was springy underfoot, in fact, in some places it was definitely squelchy…
…but as I squidged and squelched I thought of a poem by Vicki Husband… called Desire Paths – I am never quite sure about copyright so I am not posting the whole poem, although an image of it is available on her twitter page @VicHusband – but the last lines are beautiful…
‘where every desire path reaches for its vanishing point
before heading off to shortcut a rumoured route between the stars’ ….
The poem even has its own desire path….
I am not sure that my work could every conjure up an image as poetic as that, but I keep trying…perhaps it’s the magic, ethereal, contradictory landscape that I am attempting to capture…
…and on the subject of language and words to describe features of the landscape..is there a word for the seemingly silver-tipped blades of grass, glinting in the sun…..?
The weekend has been one of taking stock and making plans……more of which I will tell you when they come to fruition….(note I said ‘when’ not ‘if’… how’s that for positivity?)
I have also been reflecting on my art practice – having to write an artist’s statement does concentrate the mind – and where and how I draw my inspiration from…
I have always been an avid reader and at present I am enthralled by the writings of Robert MacFarlane. I love the countryside and wild places and having devoured The Old Ways I am now reading Landmarks.
I like these because, not only does MacFarlane have a wonderfully descriptive prose style, he has a love of language, for the forgotten words, the archaic turn of phrase, for local dialect. I too love words and learning the etymology of words….
How can you not be inspired by such descriptive terms as:
summer geese – steam that rises from the moor when the rain is followed by hot sunshine (North Yorkshire) or
ammil – ‘The icy casings of leaves and grasses and blades and sprigs were glowing and hid in a mist of sun-fire. Moor folk call this morning glory the ammil (Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter 1927 Exmoor…)
(both of the above were taken from MacFarlane’s ‘Landmarks’)
Last night I read this excerpt from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain quoted in ‘Landmarks’..
(Apologies for the wonky camera angle…)
These writings are making me stop and think about how I look at the world around me but sometimes don’t really see….
With these thoughts ringing in my head I took myself out for a walk…now I don’t live in a wild place, I live in middle England, Leicestershire where the drone of the A6 is a constant….
….but at the end of my road is the River Soar
..so I walked, I sat, I listened, I made notes….
Now I don’t profess to have the same turn of phrase as Robert MacFarlane but these are some of the words that sprung to mind as I sat, watched, listened, searched for the details…
reflection, glinting, ripples, sunlight, flow…
Reeds, shadows, pale, leaning, swept against the bank, seed heads..
A country girl born and bred, my ability to identify birdsong is shameful…but I did hear the caw of the raucous crows, a magpie and the odd, ubiquitous gull amongst the ‘whee, whee’, chirrups and calls, some more strident…
..even spotted a lone crow atop a tree…perhaps on the look out for a nest site. Most of the trees are still skeletons..
..but their density provides a solid delineation between land and sky..
There was one however, a willow, clinging to the river bank, which was beginning to show signs of it’s green, sweeping curtain…
Con trails criss-crossed the sky, the church bell called the hour, the distant neigh of a horse, the honking of nearby ducks…
The difference between looking and seeing….detail, and with that I think the essence of the place comes alive…
..will be fascinating to see how the above develops in my work…watch this space..
A Brief History of Lines, anticline, axis, books, Connecting Threads, Handmade at Two Rivers, history, holloway, Jackson Art Supplies, landscape, language, obambulate, reading, Robert MacFarlane, Stillman and Birn, The Old Ways, Tim Ingold, walking, watercolour paper
I have always loved reading: as a child I was a voracious reader, thinking nothing of reading a book from cover to cover in one go (kept me quiet for hours!) This love has stayed with me; there’s nothing quite like opening a book for the first time to discover the delights within! I will probably have two books on the go – one quite ‘deep’, whilst the other will be somewhat ‘lighter’ in nature – my mood determining which I read!
At present, I am reading just the one – Robert MacFarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’.
In his book MacFarlane combines walking and the landscape, with history and discovery, all told in such descriptive language that I am loathe to put the book down! Following paths, tracks – holloways made by man or weather – he investigates the landscape, learns the stories of our ancestors and meets the people who walk these paths, who have such a connection to the landscape that they are not just in the landscape but part of it.
MacFarlane describes his travels in a poetic, lyrical way, reminiscent of the rhythm of walking, and the language and terminology he employs is a joy in itself. His use of local dialect words, be they Gaelic or Arabic, adds another layer to the book -and I find it particularly interesting when he explains the derivation of some of our common English words (book being a case in point!)
I too, love the landscape (and history and words….), and although I cannot profess to be as seasoned a walker as MacFarlane, i do like to go for a wander now and then – and yes, walking does help me think, to meditate…
Following paths and trails, I find myself focussing on the ‘lines’ of the landscape (MacFarlane does reference Tim Ingold’s book ‘A Brief History of Lines’ – a source of inspiration for my Connecting Threads!); in particular the ‘anticlines’ – geologically, an axis or line from which strata slope or dip down in opposite directions.
Quick sketches whilst out walking have become the possible basis for a new body of work; I have been playing around with ideas whilst trying out some samples of Stillman and Birn paper from Jackson Art Supplies. (I also tried Jackson’s Handmade at Two Rivers watercolour paper – fabulous!)
It’s these lines and anticlines that interest me, the strata that provide a history of the landscape. I have an idea in my head of how I want these works to look – now I just have to experiment and see if I can achieve it!
Talking of words, I came across a fabulous one the other day – obambulate – meaning to ‘walk about’ or ‘wander aimlessly’ – I have been known to do quite a lot of that in my time!