Monday, 30 March 2015

Framing and an electric river walk

Dear Monty,

The thought of being licked in the face by a dog was once anathema to me, but since being a dog owner I now see it as the ultimate dog compliment.

This past weekend has been one of framing anxieties and wet dog walks.

Framing frescoes which are cast plaster and are therefore heavier than your average painting - can be tricky. I have found a supplier of box frames which makes the whole process a lot easier, but the framed paintings are vulnerable when transported. I was anxious about this when sending my fresco of The Veddw via Royal Mail parcel post to John Kingdon, but it seems the bubble wrap and the brown paper tied up with string was not only one of Maria's favourite things - it also helped the painting survive its journey and gave John the opportunity to recall The Sound of Music !

I am currently re- framing a painting of  prize winning Charollais ram and ewe made for my son-in-law some time ago in the style of Hogarth's servants. The painting has had five house moves since I painted it and has been transported in the back of a stock trailer and has survived - until now that is when the frame gave up the ghost.

Morton in the marsh 2nd prize winners but first time Ed had gained a prize in that show

Hogarth's heads of six servants

My ability to keep work intact has certainly improved since my early years as an artist. I recall the time when I was called for an interview at the college I most wanted to to do my masters degree at - The Slade School of Fine Art in London. I had made my plaster pieces in my small studio at Artspace Portsmouth, and they were transported in a cardboard box in the back of a van hired for the day. But by the time we got to that wonderful place of pillars, statuary and resonant history my work had been reduced to a plaster jigsaw. The very kind tutor artists suggested I find a way of making the work more robust ! Needless to say I did not get a place - and I do regret that because I had made an internal connection with the place and its history.

Life moves on and now I have a small studio and a garden for which I am grateful and a grandchild who explains how I should be conducting my framing - and a dog who likes going for walks in the car.

Sophie explaining the finer points of framing

The walk in the car involved a short drive to the river Tawe which was in full flood and a run along the old railway line to Swansea next to the river - I had no camera but the memory of it was thus :

Tawe spate
Stained golden brown from peat high up on the fan's
Mixed with
A washing basket
Plastic bags
Contributed by the inhabitants of the upper Swansea Valley
Its foaming flow heading for dock and barrage
To block up its gates to the Bristol Channel

The moist air made audible by the crackling electricity in the pylons overhead
Power's sound
As trees fall over the path
Felled by wind and waterfalls at their roots.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

A man's life (post script to fading dream)

Dear Monty,

£500 is a vast sum of money to many people on this planet. What I described in my previous blog as a small budget is really not so small. I know that gardens need not cost the earth to make.

I read this : '.... for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his posessions.'
Life is more precious than that. Whatever the budget, life is about appreciation of the space, the sky, the green, the air, the birdsong, the insects and a chance to experience them.

Plants need not be abundant, they can be few and divided into many. Repetitive planting of the same plant, or planting in blocks can make a garden.

I am sorry for my ridiculous statement about the budget size - I know what matters is love, love of the space no matter what the size.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fading dream

Dear Monty,

Having read that the BBC were looking for gardens that were waiting to be developed/changed for the new series of Big Dreams Small Spaces, I applied not thinking it would go anywhere and was shocked when the team from Lion TV got in touch. I have been wanting to open the garden under the NGS scheme for some time, but have little confidence in my gardening skills. I have wanted to create a cloistered feel, without making this small garden of 30'x40' feel too claustrophobic.

The plan was to keep the vista down the garden from our kitchen, but divide the space across the garden so that there are new vistas and cloisters to sit and contemplate in. I have not been brave enough to do this and I thought this would give me the kick I needed.

I went through the first stage of the process and told that filming would start in March/April if selected. Sadly I have not heard anything so it looks like no TV.

On reflection, I suppose that the dream was not big enough to make interesting TV. My budget could only stretch to £500 - this has been a low budget garden from the outset. I also started to examine my motives and feel a little foolish ! To be truthful I do want to change the garden - especially the view back from the garden to the house and open for NGS, but - I've always wanted to make you a cuppa and discuss this space right from the first time I used you as a hook to hang this blog on.

I fully intend to divide the space, and this has made me more determined to do so - so not a waste of time. If it works I'll contact NGS at the end of this season. There is already a garden opening in this village and perhaps we could link up - I still have many ideas, including opening my tiny studio.

Dream fading ? No it is still there and growing - even though I feel foolish.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Dreams, Caliphates and Feelings

Dear Monty,

Dreams are often unsettling, yet we are encouraged to dream. I have to admit to being a dreamer.

Are dreams just our own inventions, and if so are they real ? Uncannily they sometimes play out in front of our eyes.

I once remember having a daydream whilst shaving in my childhood home at the age of 19. I was staring into the mirror removing the bum fluff and suddenly I was transported to what seemed to be the middle ages and I became a character in a drama which was complete from start to finish. The experience was intense, hypnotic and profound - I could taste and smell the place, I experienced the emotions of the character from pain to joy.

The story was a familiar one of a man who loved his people, he was born privileged and lived in a palace, his time had come to rule his country and his people - his advisers wanted him to continue having control over the people by subjugating them - keeping them poor in order to maintain power. (Told you it would be familiar). As I was inhabiting the character I could feel his repulsion and disgust. He decided to escape from the palace and live among the people to find out what they felt about the coming King. They saw him through the eyes of the oppressed and had fear and loathing for those in power, they felt helpless, and kept their heads down accepting it would never change - that this was life - the only life.

He loved them because his heart was for them and he despised what Kingship had become. In turn they loved him, but did not recognise him as the future King - he gave up his Kingship to live with and for them before restoring justice.

There was more to this story - but I'll not bore you - the amazing thing was this took all of a minute or so, I was shaking and sweating afterwards - I had never had such a vivid daydream. I puzzled about it and was fearful I was going mad, I telephoned my best mate- on one of those old fashioned telephones with a dial. He was home from his first term at Uni. Amazingly he said to hold on to that dream - because he believed it was not a coincidence. I did not understand what he meant - but later on in my life - I came to recognise the character in the stories of Christ. I did not grow up in a religious environment - I attended Sunday School once - and got shouted at! I had no great knowledge of Christianity.

Why recount this now ? I suppose because I am challenged by what is happening in our world. Those who genuinely believe that God's will can only be carried out by strict adherence to scripture and the law and by carrying out cleansing by killing those in opposition - I actually understand. They see our culture and our corruption and are unable to see where democracy truly helps those who are ruled by it. I too wonder how much longer we will accept the obvious rigging of the system to always benefit the few - but it has always been thus - any system of control by man over man ultimately fails.We see political re aligning and shuffling - but it never really changes, and perhaps this is the motivation to leave this system behind and found a new and terrifying one - terrifying for those of us outside it.

I write a lot about my spiritual journey in my sketch book diaries and I include some thoughts from the previous few weeks.

19/2/15  I watched a programme about the history of monasticism in Britain. We were a predominantly Catholic country for a thousand years. It was a theological system led by intellectuals with the wealth and power to build great buildings and commission great art, and this was despite its roots being ascetic - based around material poverty and spiritual riches. Order became the overarching principle - sin was to be controlled by the use of penances. All this negates Christ himself - it is a system which needs men and their love of the control of other men in order to succeed - even what replaced it came about through a tussel about control of the populace cloaked in puritanism.

We still have a hangover from those days - our guilt is kept alive. If we rely on feelings then we can be decieved. We had a question in one church session that asked - 'do you feel loved?' My answer on the day was NO - so does that mean I am guilty of a lack of faith in Christ who is love ? Some days I 'feel' love - others I do not - my feelings are unreliable. We are told by Yeshua (Jesus) that we are loved - and so I am whether I always 'feel' that love or not. I cannot change what God has willed in Christ that is why he is described as a rock and as a stone of stumbling and the key stone of faith. No slaying with swords is necessary - no guilt - just the command to love - that surely is enough to deal with in this life !


Nimrud falls again
Sudden destruction
Stones fall
Trees grow
We fade
There is no perfect Caliphate.

Next time I will write about the garden- sorry Monty.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Agony and ecstasy again.

Dear Monty,

It has been another wet day - but a wet day in the studio with rain hitting the window glass and a piano concert on Radio 3.

I have been making a fresco of The Veddw. The photograph was taken late last summer when I had the privilege of meeting up with some friendly and knowledgeable people at the Home of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. The event was a precursor to a lovely supper at Tintern.

The painting is an attempt to capture both the architectural structure of the hedges, the subtle use of colour and how the garden blends into the woodland around its perimeter.

The process of painting a fresco is fraught with danger ! As soon as the pigment hits the plaster it bonds with it. I love the work of Ivon Hitchens, and in the early stages of adding the pigment I liked the loose free look of the paint marks on the surface .... the stress then is do I stop here ? Do I leave it at that ?

Watercolour can appear thin and insubstantial, neither of which describes Veddw ! So My gut instinct was to go deeper adding light by scratching and depth by using pencil in order to give it depth and substance but without loosing all of the free marks.

The greatest artistic influence in my formative years was the work of Ben Nicholson and the work of the St Ives group. It was almost by accident that I found a means of expression I felt suited both a need to make and paint. I visited Kettles Yard in Cambridge - the home of the Edes art collection, casually but thoughtfully placed in all the nooks and crannies of their cottage home -even the loo. I liked that. I found the work of Alfred Wallis and Winfred Nicholson (underrated compared to her husband) It was this place that confirmed what is I suppose a socialist ideal - that of art being available to anyone. Not that I could pick up any of the works and take them home !

So that confirmed my love of using plaster to draw, paint and etch into - not realising in my ignorance that frescoes had been painted for centuries !

So the next stage of this painting/drawing was more detailed structure.

What is clear is that the colours I am using here are not as blue as in the photograph. The photograph was taken in the evening and a large part of the garden at this point was in low light. I decided not to tone the greens down as I liked the structure the yellower greens in contrast to the blue greens provided.This is where a painting becomes a painting - not just a representation.

At this point I became nervous and was afraid of going too detailed - which could kill its painterly feel. I put down the brushes pencil and scribing tool, took the photographs and walked away.

I returned to the painting yesterday and today. I posted a picture of progress on Twitter and Facebook and have had a favourable response ! That always surprises me.

I have decided to just clean up some of the lines a little.

I tried it in its frame

and I like it.

I have also included the names of both the artists work that influenced this painting and of course Anne and Charles as they are the artists in this instance for creating this sculptural garden.

Today I have added a fixative to the surface to harden it, and worked on the background a little more to tie it together - but I must stop now ! It needs to dry off for a while before final framing, but I think it will do. My first fresco of a garden.