Beware of banality

Thursday 1 December 2005

I keep noticing the most ordinary things – trees strewn with the grey tattered remains of plastic bags, stumps of long dead trees by the roadside, the traces of tyre tracks drawn out along muddy, puddled lanes. Why I am attracted to these subjects and signs, only made complex by an interest in their very banality?

old airfled
[corner of disused airfield, Suffolk]

I grew up near to a second world war airfield. In between the criss-crossing of the disintegrating runways were wide expanses of arable fields (before the  industrial redevelopment of the many disused airfields made way for a creeping expanse of new buildings and businesses in the 1990’s). Our kitchen overlooked this unassuming vista, a landscape devoid of any complicated structures, aside from changes in the sky and the earth. The only visible changes to it were seen in the textures of agriculture – from freshly ploughed brown clods or furrows dusted with snow, to the regimental spikes of spring green, or the rustling, harvest shades of gold and yellow. Much of my childhood was spent cycling and exploring the deserted runways, dense thickets of bramble, blackthorn and elder evolved naturally out of the surrounding pockets of agricultural wasteland. Out of the crackle-patterned concrete tracks emerged small green patches of wind-sown wheat, linseed or meadow grasses. This was not a picturesque landscape; there was little cause for celebration but it was a place of escape.

abandoned - airfield
[disused airfield, Suffolk]

Fast forwarding to now, I see that this perception of the landscape is ever present (and perhaps haunting) in my work. I see a near level horizon, the melding of indistinct greys and browns on a misty winter morning, fragmented patches of ground. My work appears to need to acknowledge and distill these overlooked scenes of rural ordinariness, the blandness and the bleakness, but even banality has hidden depths…

Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.

WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn