On snakes and ladders

Yesterday I saw a grass snake, the first in many years… he appeared languidly from behind some plant pots, taking a sun bath, but as soon as I moved in to view him closer he slithered away into the long grass… and with no camera, no photo opportunity. Significant perhaps as I am the sign of the snake, according to the Chinese horoscope. Ah, the symbol of the snake: enigmatic, graceful, alert but cautious, astute, and somewhat secretive.

Which leads me to think about the board game Snakes and Ladders, a moral parable of the path of life, the ups and downs, taking and giving, greed and temptation versus piety and generosity of spirit. Life as an artist is such a game, in which you climb selfishly to reach new perspectives, but one ladder will only reach so far and it is a solitary adventure: many can help steady the ladder, but only one can climb to the top.

It is a sign that we need to to take risks, move out of the comfort zone, avoid falling into the trappings of formulaic or derivative work. It seems too, talking to other artists, that it is quite natural to have fallow periods occasionally, where the creative urge wanes and needs new input, or when you receive rejections which dent the spirit, or you decide to pursue ideas quietly without any reference to an audience (or an income).

I went to see the Margaret Mellis retrospective and the Constructed (De Stijl, Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism) exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, and the Mellis turned out to be an eye-opener.
margaret mellis collage
This exhibition is a celebration of her life and her work. Reading and watching a film of Mellis (on the video monitor), she became her most productive after the move to Southwold, the work beforehand was quite minimal in contrast (the dates on the few earlier works displayed in this exhibition are imprecise). I found out a lot about Mellis, such as she lived in a village not far from where I spent some of my childhood years, prior to moving on to the coast, her artistic productivity there helped by the numerous offerings of beach detritus from a generous public far and wide.

It is strange to think that she was creating these textural and abstract constructions at a time when I was finding little joy in art classes at school – classes which consisted of drawing sliced cabbages and reflections of newspapers in chrome kettles – although I am grateful I persisted with a 2B pencil as my only medium, since a myopic scrutiny of things is the natural eyesight of an artist.

Here are some of my own mixed media collages from the mid 1990s. It feels oddly fulfilling & meaningful when you can make some connections between your own art and another artist’s work when you did not know of them or their work at the time of making them…
green mixed media collage