Monday, 28 January 2013

The green mantel

Site for the mantel piece

The car couldn`t even reach the forest gate on Saturday, never mind drive through and up into the snowy woods to collect logs for the depleted woodshed. I was disappointed, not least because, the gate being locked, I couldn`t use my special padlock key;the one Neil Craig had entrusted to my keeping;  my key to the forest.
So, on the off chance it was open, I drove instead to the RealWood studios at Ancrum, intending to buy some hardwood for the mantel above the woodburning stove.
My luck was in - they were open. As their blurb says: "Real Wood Studios is a collectively owned workshop, showroom, sawmill and timber merchant, specialising in the creative use of locally sourced native hardwoods in the Scottish Borders." I looked amongst their sale samples like a kid in a sweet shop and, with the assistance of Graeme Murray, chose a couple of pieces of spalted oak.  The whitest oak I`ve seen.
Graeme and I struck up a conversation. He showed me an example of his own craftsmanship: a massive chest built from oak and beech from storm-damaged trees. Beautifully lacquered, waxed and oiled. Finishes are way beyond my knowledge-base, but I need to learn ! 
 Both of us had studied sculpture: he in Edinburgh, me in Aberdeen. I`d wanted to go to the Glasgow school, and he: Dundee ! However Graeme has taken his talent and love for wood to levels way beyond mine.

  Two lovely chunks of dressed Spalted Oak

The lower piece is to be carved

                         I`d like to repeat this floral motif I sketched at Roslin Chapel over twenty years ago

When carving is complete I intend sanding the surfaces and sealing with Danish Oil or similar. When I told Graham Murray I knew of someone who used Crisp n Dry instead of expensive oils or waxes , he showed polite interest: "Hmm, vegetable oil..."

Friday, 25 January 2013

cut and paste

Back in the 80s: during and after art college, I would collect scraps of paper, used envelopes, and the like, and would use these to make collage pictures. This approach enabled me to block-in patches of colour or light, added depth and definition to an image. Also at that period I liked to believe I was shunning  "materialism"; I liked the fragility of these products. In fact, few of these pictures survive - most only exist as photographs now.

Faroese Boat Vágsbotn in Tórshavn

Garthdee. View from the art college
avocado plants 

Longstone ATC. View from the art room
Castor oil plant. Mentone Terrace

Blue Jug. Longstone ATC

Avocados and big bowl

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Jeremy and the whale

 There are a number of black framed linocuts around the house that I made twenty years ago. They grew from my friendship with Jeremy Peyton, a shy Edinburgh based poet. He wrote a series of pieces (Open Secrets) some of which he then read at "Mouth Music", a children`s poetry festival at the Netherbow in Edinburgh. We collaborated on seven or eight of his poems, and I really liked the combination of black and white print and black and white text.
Deep down, beyond
your sight, and sound...

Beneath the storm
 that stirs the waves...

beneath the calm
sailors then crave...

I glide and slide
enormous, warm.

Where dangers swirl
strange tentacles

that rise and fall,
or razor teeth,

and nameless things
that suck and sting

I sidle past
solid and vast.

Where colours hide
inside dark holes

or sharp hard shells,
and rainbows swim

so fluid, fast
- elusive shoals

silver and gold,
purple, emerald...

I also dwell
a mobile wall,

where currents pull
countless minute

creatures, to fill
my massive mouth

that gapes, and sweeps
a mile deep.

Through silence, still
I strongly sing

then, surfacing
shoot out a spout

of water, from
my great grey back

that turns, and rolls
down, down, again.

[Jeremy Peyton]

Thursday, 17 January 2013

the rove of the blue blue sea

In 1995 I wanted to make something that would evoke the sensation a ship`s figurehead would feel, riding  through the waves. 
In my sketchbook I wrote:

Proud prow plough
plough proud prow
plough proudly prow

As shown below, through the weeks the piece, an assemblage, evolved into a Selkie. On its bow wave is carved a poem or song from a Shetland folk tale.

I like dee
I like dee
but O I like the rove
of the blue blue sea

Sadly, fortunately too, the sculpture was bought that year and moved to London. I haven`t seen it since and miss it ! Feel left on shore looking out to sea.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

pages from a sketch book. August 1990

[lino-cut. Work in progress]

Wednesday: The sun came out for 10 minutes - warm, drizzly, cloudy. We cycled and cycled. Hostel closed and so on to Clifton on the west coast. Teeming with wet tourists. A brass band playing neopolitan tunes. Traditional music advertised in most pubs. In we go. Elderly men jamming, young man sings. A tourist holds up a tape recorder. A wee brown eyed girl does acrobatics for me. We become stupored on Murphys.
The young curly headed piano player was cajoled into singing a love song and a young woman came over from the bar to listen.

Thursday:  view from the tent, beyond the bikes is a hillock of pine trees

Rather than spending £26 on a lamp we`ve improvised with safety lights, a jar and tin foil. 4 daddy long legs have extinguished themselves already

Kylemore Abbey: "Mother Abbess and community welcome you...Please feel free to explore the tranquil surroundings in which we are priviliged to live, and see our Gothic church, a replica of Norwich cathedral"
[path leading beyond the chapel]

Beach near Cleggan

Clew Bay looking over to Croagh Patrick in the early evening. 
Sharing a palette of colours in a headwind.

Monday evening: It`s been raining most of the day so we`ll be heading inland down to the big loughs in south and east Galway - land of ruined abbeys, friaries and castles. The plan seems to be 5 or 6 more days touring - heading towards Ballinasloe and from there catching the Dublin train.
[Clew Bay]

Wednesday: Cong Abbey. We investigated the dry canal between the loughs at Cong. This had been constructed during  famine but won`t hold water and so is dry. As I drew dollops of water hit the page.
["this purple is the plague"]

Friday, 11 January 2013

Ciara Shine

It would have been the late eighties, early nineties. Ciara Shine would have been in her mid twenties. She lived with an older man, who was unwell,  and they were both regulars at Sandy Bells where he played fiddle in folk sessions.
Ciara was from Cork. She had straight auburn hair and wore clogs. She worked in a horticultural nursery. Her accent really did lilt. She was quite kind and quite wise. She could speak truth at you. Her eyes had a sad strain  to them, like she`d cried or been sad or very exasperated recently. 
Though not close, Ciara got to know you well enough to see the hidden stuff; the evasions. And then had to tell you what she saw. And this would sting  terribly because what she said was true and because you didn`t then, nor for the next twenty years, possess the means to change.
You may not  remember her actual words, which were delivered outside Proctors pub ("time for medicine"),  at the top of the Meadows, round the corner from Sandy`s.But you`d remember that the winter evening, busy with people and traffic, was dark and wet, full of headlights, and remember the taste of what she said.
Ciara: who worked with the soil, growing plants, who had a straight forward belief in the universe; its essential goodness, who was at heart happy because she connected with others.  She  made friends easily, her doors were open, her faith freeing.

And in this picture of Heuston station in Dublin she is standing there (where I have transported her), hugging a plant, clogged feet firmly rooted, noticing and enjoying  the shadow painted by a cast iron pillar onto a train . And this shadow, to Ciara Shine, casts the stark, sacrificial cross as the simple all-embracing, flowing arms of love. The train station a cathedral of the everyday where light and shadow play, motes of diesel dust glimmering high in the arches, like minute stars.
Meanwhile, the young man is surrounded and constrained by barriers, timetables, deadlines and maps. On the far wall some nuns recoil from a courting couple. Another nun closer by says her rosary. The man and his friend Kate, en route to county Galway, are tense and introverted.

Your memory has wiped her words but their essence, sad and emasculating, was that you didn`t love or trust yourself; that your actions sprang out of weaknesses and fear.
Because you evaded it with incantations you didn`t know in your gut that fear is a distorting impulse. That it rises and falls like the wind

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

marine green bracken brown

Another New Year.

Late December 1989, five Edinburgh friends  took off from no 42 Marchmont Road for Cornwall, in a hired Renault "Energy", though Jonathan may have joined us in Exeter. We`d hired a cottage in Tregony for 5 days and, like some dysfunctional version of The Famous Five: showing off, cracking jokes, speaking in "Cornish" accents,  we spent those days exploring the cliff walks and beaches. 

Renault Energy

 We wove past abandoned tin mines, signs for clotted cream teas.  To a soundtrack of the Proclaimers, the Doors, a Bach  violin concerto. The sun shooting light beams onto the ocean. Black and white track, marine green and bracken brown.

St Michael`s Mount

Crossing the causeway to Saint Michael`s Mount we walked around the rocky perimeter  looking for a route onto the island and were confronted by a black-leatherclad bloke:  "Clear off !" he said menacingly. We were five varieties of indignant: passive to aggressive; liked to think we weren`t used to property being guarded so possessively 

New Year`s Eve.  Pub and Church

Stumbling drunk  from the pub`s warm light, after the New Year`s Eve bells, we walked widdershins round the dark churchyard, glad of each others` company, genuinely thrown when organ music emanated suddenly from the church, its windows casting kaleidoscope colours onto the gloom.

St Ives. New Year`s Day 1990

 Sitting there at the pier`s edge, at the year`s precipitous edge. 
The sun shone warmly, seagulls wheeled around our sandwiches. During one long moment Kate shielded me from the drop. Andy smoked his cigarette. Sandra gazed out onto the harbour
Jonathan, full of an elemental joy, ran towards us. 


Friday, 4 January 2013

Into the Night

Back door carpentry curtailed at sunset I found two new double A batteries and put them into the  head torch, stretched it over my head and took off, up the logging road. Though only early evening there was no glimmer of day left and as I ran the torch  threw a thin wavering elipse onto the ground; a blur of pale yellow light dispersing the black. The beam jarring to my rhythm. Its shudder my running mate.
I ran into the night, away from familiarity, the forest  a wall of darkness on my left. A mile along the way I imagined I heard faint footsteps behind and felt a familiar shrill creeping along my spine. Fear is such a distorting impulse and, ignoring the urge to look behind, I ran on into the growing darkness.. Sounds of the Bold burn and surging winds dominated my senses. My logical self felt no anxiety while my ancient self, honed over millennia, felt sharp-toothed dangers and supernatural presences residing in the shadowlands.  Fear rises and falls like wind.

Another mile and, at the junction of three roads, I stopped and turned off my torch. I stood in the blackness, exposed, breathing its sounds, feeling its greyshapes on my skin. I observed myself projecting imaginings onto the void, while seeing, experiencing,  that the landscape, the forest, was benign; indifferent. As I became part of the forest, no longer battery-casting darkness aside, my night vision emerged. Like a drowning man I swallowed the black but found it life-giving.
Dark tree masses harboured sleeping deer - Home.
Brook burblings, a song.
Star light: eternal presence.