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From the Forests Beneath The Waves

Forests are still my thing, what better than a forest beneath the sea, a kelp forest. The colours, for one, are beautiful – perhaps some of my favourite colours, aquamarine, turquoise, blues. I imagine it to be a world of beings passing through – seals, brittlestars, rockfish, sea urchins, otters – in the arms of kelp – the odd diver, the odd wreck splintering and lost, discarded bits and pieces tossed by muted currents, swaying waters that whisper the secrets of the land beneath the waves. A forest dream of a world.

Kelp Forest

Enter the Kelp Maidens.

Kelp MaidensI have painted two new long boards on reclaimed wood, the Kelp Maidens. They are varnished with exterior varnish and ready for the outdoors.

I am a little familiar with the Kelpie myths – water spirits that live in lochs and rivers in Scotland, water horses that shapeshift into men or women. My kelp maidens are slightly different, there is no hint of horse, no horse’s mane or hooves. But they live in the kelp forests, amongst the fronds of Saccharina and Saccorhiza (and other kelps) in Scottish waters – they are like the names of two sisters :)

While I was painting my kelp maidens, the Guardian published a series of Forest Fable podcasts. All the fables are good, but one of them, The Princess’ Forest by Alec Finnay just happened to be about the myth of a submerged forest off the coast of St Kilda where a giant woman was said to reside. It is said that she was addicted to hunting deer in the forests between the islands of Harris and St Kilda before the seas came and flooded the land.

My Kelp Maidens are now in the lovely shop Way Out There and Back in Littlehampton along with some of my other paintings and cards.

My River Sisters painting, that was in the shop, has just gone to a new home. I’m delighted!

River Sisters
The River Sisters
The Blue Forest
A new painting, The Blue Forest, (yes it’s blue as usual and I’m still with the forest theme!)
Way Out There and Back
Some of my other paintings in Way Out There and Back.
Kelp Maiden Altered Book
A coloured altered book featuring a Kelp Maiden, which I have put on my Reflections Folksy Shop.
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Ulmus Memoriam

There is a new, temporary, sculpture in the park near me, a gateway or screen, a memorial to the Elm tree. It stands beside the two of the oldest elms on Earth, the Preston Twins of Preston Park, Brighton.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is carved from elms felled in the River Cuckmere valley last year due to Dutch Elm Disease. Elm trees around the country were wiped out in their millions from the 1970s by the disease. In Brighton effective control measures were introduced, so it is the last stronghold in Britain for mature English elms. There is still a wonderful variety of elm trees here, originally planted by the Victorians and Edwardians.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is the creation of wood sculptor Keith Pettit and part of a project called Ulmus Maritime organized by The Conservation Foundation along the South coast. He created the screen as a memorial to this fated tree.

On the front are flying birds – rooks – a copse of Winter elms and a sun. Along the bottom are the words:

“Ad gigantes augustos olim per terram nostrum pervagatos, nunc defectos” which means “A memorial to the lost, majestic giants once spreading through our land.

On the other side are swirlly clouds like waves and the hopeful words:

“The last bastion, shielded so future generations may still know of them.”

One of the Preston Twins

The Elm tree had its own nymph in Greek mythology. She was one of eight tree spirits or Hamadryads and her name was Ptelea. Elm trees feature in ancient literature including the Iliad and the Aeneid, where in the Underworld there is found the Stygian Elm of the River Styx or Elm of Dreams:

Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, ’tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.

And finally here is a link to a lovely poem, ‘The English Elms’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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The Magical Land Exhibition

Avocet Gallery FlyerAvocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.

Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:

The Crow from The Crow
The Crow in watercolour pencil. Drawn for The Crow, a folktale by Christopher Meckel – see my The Crow page.
Blue Sea Scene
Blue Sea Scene in watercolour pencil.
Angel
Angel in pen and ink.

Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.

Water Lyrics Maiden top

Come dreamer,
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see

whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice

let all emotions flow from our dreaming together

I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river

then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
truthful ones,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying

I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…

Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.

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Castle Dreams and Birds

Back in March I took two painted boards to Herstmonceux Castle for Waterweek as I had been invited to contribute some creation. When I took them in on the second evening, one of the artist organisers looked as though to say what on earth have you brought us! I left hurriedly without attending the evening talks, embarassed as I am about these things and made off into the night across the misty Pevensey Levels. I had dared to show something, I had taken the risk! I didn’t see any of the week’s events as I desperately needed to escape the clamour of Brighton and spend the week cosied up beside a roaring woodburner in a shepherd’s hut down in Dorset.

When I returned to pick up my boards, we – Kevin and I – were taken up through the castle corridors and shiny-floored halls to a main room by a friendly caretaker who knew all about my boards. And there they were placed up in a bay window which I thought was a lovely prominant position.

d Painting at Herstmonceux

Why I’m writing this is that I’ve recently had a dream about Herstmonceux Castle. It is perhaps strange that of all the wonderful things that happened that week, all I can write about is my dingy dream. But the castle definitely made an impression on me.

My dream:

I was at Herstmonceux Castle working on my Memory Tree story in a library there. From the windows I could see the fresh green growth of the trees. I was with my mother who was lingering and wasting time when I wanted to go into town with her. I decided to leave her but felt torn. I have many images of her beside a window, sunset without, feeding the birds.

Life is rich on deeper levels. I reach back into a distant past within the walls of the castle of my mind or being. Mystery, intrigue and beauty are words that come to mind and darkness too, which is strange as we are now tipping into Spring and light streams into newly unearthed spaces. I am feeling the desire for life with Spring but also a resistance after Winter.

Castle Dream

I shall not forget
The open window
You with your gifts of bread and love
leaning out with your familiarity
At one with the birds

They came in numbers
And you named them
Each and every one
Native American names
I thought of your gift with them
Those that came in numbers
To feed in your presense

I shall not forget
And shall stand now
At my open window
Inviting in the birds
And I’ll call them by names
Each and every one
To be at one with the birds.

Pigeons

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Exploring the River Adur, Boats and Wrecks

River Adur in MistRecently I added a couple of papier mache bowls to my Folksy shop featuring A Letter At Twilight and Dancing at Sunset designs which I had originally made into cards. I thought about the series of photographs that I used to overlay my illustrations, they’re of the River Adur and were taken one evening in November 2011 when the sea mists were rolling in. We lingered for a while, chasing deeper into the mists as the sun went down. It was very atmospheric.

I thought it would be interesting to explore the River Adur a little, to know a bit more about one of the four main rivers of Sussex. So recently, Kevin and I started our investigation at Shoreham where the River Adur finds the sea.

A wreck that I’d seen featured on a paranormal website, intrigued me and I wanted to find it. According to local legend, the wreck was once a fishing vessel that became caught on the rocks during a massive storm in 1893. It is said to be haunted by a group of shadowy figures who seem to be trying in vain to dislodge the boat. They are said to be the boat owner’s family, destitute after the stranding. The nearby footbridge, built in 1781 as a Tollbridge and now a Grade 2 listed building, is also supposedly haunted by a certain “Blue Lady”.  This stirred my interest a bit as I paint blue “ladies”, but I haven’t been able to find out any more of the story.

Wrecked Boat Shoreham

Wreck at Shoreham

The Blue Lady of The Old Shoreham Footbridge

River Adur Mudbank

Carving in St Nicolas' Church

Green Man?

 

We wandered over the bridge looking upriver where a tongue of mud shaped like a cuttlefish harbours gulls, ringed plover and cormorants open winged like phoenixes towards the sun. Apparently there are over 30 words for “mud” in the old Sussex dialect, from thick mud, “slub”, to “smeery”, wet and sticky mud. The muddy silt of estuaries with mudbanks is supposed to be rich and fertile – full of lugworms and the other life like soup – it shifts and rearranges the land, laying it down and sculpting it in a kind of peripheral dance. A swan signet of beige smudges passed beneath us and I thought about the beautiful work of India Flint and her times spent beside rivers, collecting, dyeing, writing and musing. Over the bridge, we watched a murmuration of starlings over Shoreham airport swirl and pulsate like ink dropped into water. We passed a World War II pillbox beside the path crammed with vegetation and junk; this was becoming an interesting, “Edgelands” experience. (Check out a review of the book, Edgelands, and an interesting radio programme by the poet authors.)

Our wanderings took us to nearby St Nicolas’ Church first built around 900 AD. At first I thought, just another church, but inside a few things caught my eye. First, one of the turret windows smudged green by the foliage outside pressing in against the glass as though seeking a light within, and then, amongst decorative stonework of limpet shapes, a few, charming carvings of heads – could one be a green man? – a cat mask and elf carvings too. There were hints of a maritime nature in the church and graveyard that I liked.

River Adur Gull Mud

Over another bridge, the Shoreham Houseboats came into view; well into Edgelands territory now. It is a smorgeborg of wonderful junk put to elaborate and creative use. I had little idea the place was so interesting and artistically inspiring; we saw a group of sketchers with eyes cast out over the mudflats and boats. The flotsam and jetsum of defunct war shells, sheds-on-stilts, a boat made using half a bus, ropes and tyres, log-piles galore, walkways of flower pots, children’s toys, bicycles,…I half expected to see a figurehead or two.Peace One Day Shell

A Shoreham Houseboat

A Shoreham Houseboat

Today I visited an exhibition at Fabrica here in Brighton called Reef by the artist Simon Faithfull and collaborators. It is a poetic exploration of the idea of collapse and renewal. Back in August, an old fishing vessel, the Brioney Victoria, that had reached the end of its human use, was ritually set fire to and sunk off the south coast at Weymouth in Dorset. It was rigged with five cameras that transmited underwater footage of the wreck for 6 days showing the first signs of colonisation by other, non human life. The artist wanted to witness something that was once part of our human world of appointments and schedules, enter a new ecosystem, a world of which it will be a part for hundreds of years, part of geological time. With Reef, he wanted to create a portal into this “other paralell universe” in the murky green depths of the sea. Reef by Simon FaithfullReef Exhibition

A film of the boat being set alight was displayed on a large screen in the darkened church that is Fabrica. The clock – that no longer works – is set at the time the boat sank. Below there are smaller screens where films play of underwater scenes described as of a “deep mournful green colour”. Alien or pea green soup came to my mind or a haunting pea green soup. Bubbling, glugging, muffled underwater sounds emanate from the screens. I like the whole idea of the project and that the boat will become an artificial reef, but I was slightly disappointed in the display; I don’t much like tv screens as display units.

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A Few Inspirations 1

Progress is slow on the art front. I’m continuing with my goddess book and every-so-often get drawn to doing a painting or two. While researching occasionally I stumble on an artist, poem or film that resonates with me. So I thought I’d share a few artists and other inspirations that make me feel encouraged to work more expansively.

Firstly I’ve chosen this video clip of Ariel from the film, The Tempest. It aludes to a liminal, spirit world just out of sight, beside the shore, through woodland trees on an island. A haunting, beautiful realm of magic and spirit. Ariel, male or female or both, resides there in this realm. I like the description of him that accompanies the video clip:

“the embodiment in spirit of human emotion, vulnerability and compassion. He can transform his physical presence into essences of light, fire, wind and water, and the corporeal manifestation of harpies, frogs, stinging bees and bubbling lava”.

Freed from his/her imprisonment in a tree by Prospero, he/she is bound to serve the magician but yearns for freedom; (I can relate to that.)

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong,
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

Ethereal, otherworldly, ghostlike, haunting, with nature and water – all ingredients that moved me to paint my Siren picture a few years ago.Siren

I’ve drawn on my Siren painting for my goddess Lethe of the River Hades, one of the six rivers of the Ancient Greek Underworld – a goddess of the liminal world. While researching for her, I stumbled on the an installation which was the result of a collaboration between the sculptor Rosalyn Driscoll and the film-maker Tereza Stehlikova called “Rivers of Hades: Forgetfulness (Lethe)”. Forgetfulness by Rosalyn Driscoll and Tereza StehlikovaBoth artists were exploring perception and synesthesia. (Synesthesia is something I’m fascinated by … hearing colours, seeing sounds, the blurring of the senses.)

I like the description and photos of the installation, how it is about a viseral relationship with nature, memories, feelings and dreams. It is made of translucent rawhide giving it an organic, animal quality and the colours of twilight. It is sculpted in such a way as to suggest water caught in time or a body in water with video images projected on or through it, representative of memories, dreams, the otherworldly, hauntings, ghosts and death. This is Lethe, a river which the dead must cross to forget their former lives, a River of Forgetfulness (like my River of Memory painting that I have painted before). Video images cross and blur boundaries and edges suggesting impermanance and fragility. I would have liked to have seen the exhibition and the Sensory Worlds conference that staged it.

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Pathway Through the Wood

Walking Blind the Night of the CometPathway Through the WoodThis morning I thought about a pen and ink drawing I did years ago titled “Walking Blind the Night of the Comet”. It’s dated 14th April 1997 so the comet must have been Hale Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. I’d been invited by a friend to go to Devil’s Dyke in the South downs to take photos at night. Fortunately the night was clear and we had good views. I have a photo of the comet somewhere as a faint smudge of light, but here is the drawing I did a few days later.

I’ve looked a lot at the work of Samuel Palmer one of my favourite artists. I love his sepia, moonlit scenes; like him I have put the moon in many pictures. I feel drawn to black and white drawings and photos, and enjoyed looking at the small sketchbooks of Julien Bell in a current exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery called Dreams of Here. The exhibition also features works by Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski. I was interested in seeing Tom’s work as the flier read that he “uses landscape as his starting point, but a landscape shaped by memories and dreams”. I’m becoming increasingly drawn to landscapes both inner and outer and how they feature in art and literature. Tom Hammick’s work did not disappoint and I appreciated his dark scenes of trees, figures and obscure imagery as well as his vivid colours.

Feeling inspired by my old drawing, Samuel Palmer and the exhibition, I decided to visit some local woods in Brighton and look at trees and paths. I like paths. Paths are worn with stories. I took photos but my creative result is a pen and ink sketch from my imagination featuring a crescent moon once again! I’ve named it “Pathway Through the Wood“. The spindly trunks and coils of bramble stand out at the moment, late winter, hence the swirls in the foreground.

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Art in the woods

Face sculpture at Hannah PescharReflection in sculpture at Hannah PescharReflecting triangle sculpture at Hannah PescharGreen sculpture at Hannah PescharI visited Hannah Peschar sculpture garden in Surrey recently. It is a beautiful setting for sculpture with plenty of water everywhere. I took photos of several pieces I liked – a giant rusting face/mask; metal triangles that reflected the environment so well they were almost invisible; a metal ball that was like a crystal ball and a green marble-like statue that blended in perfectly with its surroundings. (I’ve used part of a metal ball photo to change my blog header, I thought it sums up the changeable autumn weather.)

My favourite piece was a sound installation by Robert Jarvis. Walking beside the Japanese Maple, the Umbrella Bamboo, the Silverbell Tree and the Giant Rhubarb – all growing around the Oriental Pond – music starts to play. One can’t see where it is coming from. Robert Jarvis created the music based on patterns derived from the DNA sequences of the plants and the processes that determine their growth and ageing. The result is simple and interesting. You can here the music here.

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Moving, dancing and fragments of the sea

Mud MaidWe’re emerging from a long, bleak winter, Spring is nearly here and I yearn to move. I have felt like the Mud Maid in The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, taking her long sleep in the earth. The figures in my pictures are stiff too, like winter, but now its time to stir and move.

I felt the desire to dance and move return to me strongly when I picked up a flyer the other day about an exhibition at my local library in Brighton, 14th-27th March that’s called “Inside My Dance”. The exhibition tells through oral history, photography and film the story of the dancer and choreographer Angela Lane and how every aspect of her life was affected by her daughter’s profound disability. It is a collaboration between Angela and oral historian and photographer Noelle McCormack. The film is of dancer, Holly Holt, dancing a piece choreographed by Angela entiltled “For Cherry”. You can see a short trailer here.

Moving and writing can go together. I found some words I’d written in a movement workshop taken by Miranda Tufnell called “Body, Space, Image” (like the title of her book). I’ve made them into more of a poem:
Seaweed

Moving with the Tide
I lie open
Hands the fronds of seaweeds shifting in shallows.
Rolling I greet the studio’s wooden floor,
And catch a warm light cascade from high windows
Aswim with a thousand moat boats.

Sinuous my spine,
Pebbles my vertebrae.
Starfish, wave, anemone,
Salt, snakelock, dahlia.

I rest, a little drunk on backwash
While the tide slips over and spills me back into ocean-swallowed waters
And the pipes on the wall become pillars of the pier,
Strong and steely red with tommorrow’s rust,
And I cling encrusting like coral or the all-muscle of barnacle,
Pulling the earth.

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