Sunday, 24 February 2013

Letter to Monty on the end of the gloom and the beginning of restoration


I listen to a secular cantata by J.S. Bach on chasing away the gloom. I had no idea gloom can belong to both the secular and religious world !

I note too that there has been another book written in denial of  God, unfortunately for the writer no amount of denial can thwart God consciousness in mankind.

What other animal can make such grand plans for the future ? What other animal is so aware of its impact on the earth ? What other animal tries to solve the mysteries of its own existence? What other animal wants to understand the workings and cravings of its own flesh ?

Unfortunately we are never going to be able to stop asking questions of ourselves because there is the seed of eternity planted in each of us which makes us unique among the creatures of the earth. It is a seed which will always take us beyond our biological existence.

Restoration - a beautiful word. I have been restored by walking in the limestone hills near Penwyllt and Craig-y-Nos. I am moved almost to tears by the beauty of what I see. Some of it sculpted by nature some of it by man. The colours in just the bark of the parkland pines and the moss covered dry stone walls makes me want to stop and paint.

I hope to God that I can retire early and paint, paint, draw and paint.


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Letter to Monty on why I fell asleep during French Gardens

Dear Monty,

Gloom descends over me like clouds.

Perhaps it is my fragile ego that has been damaged. Being salted with fire and having that salt in yourself is a difficult thing, it goes against all that we are in our new age of enlightenment.

I sometimes have to fight with myself to be content, discontent sneaks up on me and grabs hold of my mind. Discontent is the malady of our time.

I stubbornly continue to write letters to myself - I suppose in truth that is what these letters are, they are ostensibly about gardens and art - but more about trying to make sense of who I am. The world I inhabit consists of hills and valleys. The moon above and the cycle of day and night. I move only short distances during the week. I see and deal with many individuals. Like all my colleagues the week is filled with time pressures - and trying to have some empathy with those I connect with, but I struggle with that more and more.

I want to explain why I fall asleep watching TV programs about gardens, art or wildlife ...It is because I am exhausted by human need. The sight of sunshine and the sounds of nature are enough to take me away... no matter how 'great' or intellectual the presenter or the artistry portrayed.

This valley contains my life - overshadows it at times.

'Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.'

The only evil really is in my own thinking. There is a hard edged beauty to this place, and in it I try to heal and make art and a garden.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Letter to Monty... Am I a peasant or an intellectual ?


I have to apologise. Yet again I half slept through the 3rd and final episode of French Gardens. This was not because of any lack on your behalf as the presenter, but because I find gardens so relaxing - even images of them.

Perhaps I dreamt it, but I'm sure I heard you throw out a challenge to British gardeners by saying that unlike the French we lack an intellectualism in our gardens. I woke up at that point, perhaps I need to watch  BBC iPlayer in case I misheard. There has been no twitter debate about it, so perhaps I was dreaming.

We needed that observation to be made. I have to say however, that this debate has been going on for some time in this country, just read :

I must be a peasant, a Welsh peasant at that.

On the way to Herefordshire to see my granddaughter I noted the vast amounts of rubbish strewn along the roadsides of Wales. 'Proud to be Welsh' we say, but what exactly are we proud of ? If we mean the country - the earth - the soil - the land in which we live, surely we would look after it, nurture it, protect it ? Just a few miles inland from the valleys, the litter subsides and by the time you get to Herefordshire there is hardly any at all. Perhaps it is just the idea of Wales we are proud of, or perhaps what I am seeing is the legacy of the rape of the fair country ? The valleys have been abandoned by the those who made the money from the coal, and their sense of purpose has been lost, no longer rural or industrial.

The Herefordshire morning dawned with mist and rams grazing in the field. Sophie Elizabeth wakes speaking Herefordshire Chinese with squeals of joy. 12 weeks old already.

We drove through gentle hills and oak lined roads past fields flood plains and sunset.

Back at this coal tipped coal slipped mountain in black and blue with Cezanne trees and water drenched roads. My garden is not great, neither is it intellectual. It is the garden of a peasant from the 'lovely ugly town' but it remains my sanctuary, my cloister.


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Letter to Monty on my fat leg, France and the drive to create

Dear Monty,

I saw a man loose his grip on life on Friday, I saw his life slip slowly from him.

I watch as year on year people pass from this life. I see myself on the same journey - one for which we are never prepared.

We have to find meaning to our lives - we each grasp hold of something - a cause, a passion, a belief.

The French Gardens series lifted me from the gloom - perhaps it was the sun in Provence and your description of warm skinned flavoursome tomatoes.

We have decided to remain here beneath the eroded and fly tipped coal tip.

Now infused with your enthusiasm for shaping and creating a garden - I look forward to more pruning and planting a repetition of what grows well.

I have a compulsion to draw, and since having this passion resurrected, I am opening my eyes again after what seems like a long sleep. Nursing is getting bad press at the moment, it suffers from over regulation and a focus on form filling rather than the use of common sense. I hope to leave it behind soon.

I have been drawing some of the women in my life. Three graces, faith, hope and love.

Three graces, ancient horses and a commandment - To love God and your neighbour as yourself.

If we believe that women and men have made art for 40 thousand years in response to the living earth around them - to express and understand their place within it, then why in these days can we not believe in God? Why not the universe - why not Christ - why not an empty tomb ?

I understand why some believe his body was stolen by his followers, I would have believed that story myself, because it makes a kind of logical sense, resurrection on the other hand ? ! We have no definitive proof of life after death, or for the resurrection, except in the eye-witness accounts of the disciples and the faith of many who believe but cannot see.

My fat leg is here now along with its partner, it exists but will someday disintegrate along with the rest of me back to the earth it came from.

Those cave dwellers who made the beautiful artworks shown on The Culture Show were outnumbered by animals (how wonderful, how awesome, how humbling) , and what a contrast to the plight of the animal and plant world today.

We have lost our way, our connection with life and the universe. You could sense in the voices of those that looked upon those art objects from our past - a sense of loss, a lament for what once was.
They were made as a veneration, a thanksgiving for the abundance of life.

Our sophisticated hypocrisy almost drowns out their voices, like it drowns out all reasonableness and love.
How can we love a Creator God in these days of sophistication ? With our morality based on economic well being. A democracy which cuts out God from the picture. Faith is about taking injustice in our stride - putting  down our swords and making ploughshares - not slashing out, not cutting up those we consider our enemies.

We have so lost our connection with all that we are - that we no longer know how to read the natural world and how nature affects us. We work counter to it, but sometimes like when we see those images of the running horses, we suddenly feel something 'in our bones', it is a tenuous - fragile connection to our past, being pushed further and further away by the demons.

For me, the visceral death of Christ, connects us to the men and women of the running horses - to the mark makers, to the natural order of the universe, to a paradise lost - to a garden. That is where we all want to be in the very depths of who we are - it is entwined in our collective genetic memory.

Now that was a rant.

Thank you for the paysan memories.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Monty, where does the road take us ?


I see you have returned to France.

Your film reminded me of my visits to Paris as an art student between 1981-83. It is a city that cannot fail to make an impression with its wide open streets, avenues of trees, the river and public gardens. I particularly remember Versailles with its long canal. At that time I was not aware of having a particular interest in gardens, but the gardens at Versailles were astonishing. I saw them in early morning light, when there were not that many people there. I also remember being intrigued by the garden at the Musee Rodin. Strangely for an art student, it was not the sculpture that caught my attention but the garden with pyramid shaped topiary.

Perhaps what I was responding to was the sense of order, balance and harmony.

It almost feels as though I was meant to visit, and that the encounters I had which were sensually intense, were pre-ordained.

There is one incident, which has great significance only to me perhaps, but which was of such depth that it has stayed with me these last 30 years.

I remember walking from our digs in the Rue du Fauconnier to Notre Dame. It was a few weeks before Christmas, and there was a choir rehearsing. I sat for a long time just absorbing the atmosphere which helped to get me beyond the streams of other tourists and the constant photography of this amazing Gothic building.

I sat and watched a woman arranging flowers on a stand beside the altar, as she was doing so she dropped a rose on the step, I continued to watch as she stepped back and forth looking at the arrangement and almost crushing the rose underfoot. I am a timid person and had very little french, but I felt compelled to get up and show her the fallen blossom. What happened next had an impact on me which she perhaps would never have realised. She picked up the rose, thanked me, smiled and handed it to me.

Such a simple act of kindness, but it had a profound effect, to the point of touching something inside me that I hardly knew was there. I wept, I could not stop, and at that time I just could not work out why.

I never asked or wanted to become involved in spiritual matters, but I did have a sense of something outside of ourselves which I was trying to discover through making drawings and paintings. I suppose the immense grandeur of Paris and its association with art and artists, with revolution and oppression, its history which is tangible, all had its effect upon an impressionable mind.

So where am I now Monty ? I am here in my humble dwelling with coal tip and floods. I realise that I have been influenced by those gardens of 30 years ago. What I have is not Versailles, but to be honest I never wanted anything other than a studio and enough food to survive, I never imagined having even a small garden...but here it is, and here in this hotch potch valley town with its mix of architectural styles and terraces like teeth grimacing from the dark hills, I make a small garden and paint small paintings of the things that captivate me still.

There are days here that still make me sing.