Tag Archives: fen

coming home

Saturday 9 May 2015

They take away our belts so that we must hold
Our trousers up. The truly mad don’t bother
And thus are oddly hobbled. Also our laces
So that our shoes do flop about our feet.

so begins Anthony Hecht’s poem ‘Coming Home’ [1976], a creative retelling of the English poet John Clare’s escape from an asylum house in Essex back to his ‘homeland’ in Northamptonshire, in the summer of 1841 [from John Clare’s journals].

but what connection does this excerpt from a poem have with a bright blustery morning in early may?

well, out of the blue, the picture editor of The Times Literary Supplement [TLS] contacted me and asked if they could use a picture of mine to accompany a poem by John Clare as the ‘Poem of the Week’.

the request was for something “wild and woody”, as they liked my ‘Clare inspired’ sketchbook paintings in this journal [blog]. i hadn’t conceived of these painting sketches as outwardly ‘clare-inspired’ but i had, in a curious inversion, quoted a couple of lines from John Clare’s poem ‘The Progress of Rhyme’ to accompany the sequence of paintings from some muddy and muted days in winter.

maybe it was something to do with seeking hope, on the horizon, escaping to the country, side-tracked, down a country lane, a nearby hill, the corner of a field, or down on the marsh – all reflected back in jaded eyes. an overwhelming sense of ‘enclosure’ in these agricultural landscapes could make anyone go a little stir-crazy after a while, but in John Clare’s poem i was reminded that sometimes it’s small nature that grasps and grounds you. one can easily ramble on about these things, it’s a common side-effect of the ruralist condition.

the progress of rhyme’ is, as the title suggests, a poem about poetry: nature as muse, his enduring love for ‘poesy’ as he terms it, intertwined with memories of past acquaintances, the indifference and fickleness of others, finding beauty in weeds, uplifted by birdsong – “cheer-up cheer-up cheer-up”, solace and joy in nature. it goes on. & on, & on [with quite a lot of curly ampersands en route]

the progress of rhyme’ is also a poem that requires repeated reading, not only because it is quite long and there is a quirky dialect to be deciphered in the words, grammar and spelling, but because with each reading a short rhyme might chime out with new resonance.

whenever i take time out to skim through the two books of John Clare’s poems i have, there is always an interesting pause for thought in the wider narrative. maybe this is the nature of poetry – you read what you need – as i must confess i have not yet read all of the poems, nor have i fully comprehended them in the academic literary sense.

but i must get back to the original back-story, for this is not about ‘the progress of rhyme‘, but another poem…

in reply to the enquiry from the TLS, i sent them pictures of five landscape painting sketches for consideration, not knowing which John Clare poem they might be associated with. naturally, i was flattered by the picture request even though no fee was involved, as i like john clare’s poetry, and oddly, maybe it would be some good exposure for a hermit artist [i’m not really a hermit, it just appears that way in comparison to other artists’ lives].

then a small muddle-up occurred as it transpired that the ‘poem of the week’ wasn’t going to be a John Clare poem after all, but a poem inspired by Clare’s ‘Journey out of Essex’. i had not previously heard of the poet Anthony Hecht, but have discovered via the wonder of the worldwide web he is/was a prestigious american poet [now deceased]. i was still happy with the picture agreement.

i later emailed a friend who has more literary connections – they have worked in graphic design & book publishing, and are currently working on illustrations for a new book of poems – and i said that i found it unusual that a small wintery bleak painting of mine was chosen to illustrate a journey taken in summer time. they replied: he sleeps in ditches. this sounds reasonable, but i wouldn’t want my painting to be interpreted that things had got that bad. in any case, ditches can be beautiful in summer, overgrown with the tall, swaying fluffy-ended stems of meadowsweet.

after re-reading the poem, the contrast made more sense: John Clare’s escape from the mental asylum to a place called home, as reinterpreted by Hecht in ‘Coming Home’, is a solitary and inhospitable journey: he travels wearily “by the dark of night”, the trees in the landscape are “unimaginably black and flat” against the grey sky, puddles are “flagstones of silver”, he goes hungry, takes a nap in a ditch, is “troubled by uneasy dreams”, forgets he has a wife and child, and still holds on to the hope that when he arrives ‘home’…

here is the link to the full poem mentioned at the beginning, ‘Coming Home‘ by Anthony Hecht, in The Times Literary Supplement: [http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1552228.ece]

some other sources of information found on the internet this week:

Interview: Anthony Hecht, The Art of Poetry N0. 40, the Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2487/the-art-of-poetry-no-40-anthony-hecht

John Clare Cottage, Helpston: http://www.clarecottage.org

[note to self: there are probably some inconsistencies in using capitals, with regard to my usual ‘house style’ of typing]

[another thought: as a result of the general election here in the UK this week, a cloud of despondency has descended upon the liberal and left-leaning voters of the population. five more years of austerity. any analogy will do….]

six abstract painters : a private view

Monday 30 May 2011

walking past st mary’s churchyard from the marketplace towards the new exhibition ‘six abstract painters‘ at the halesworth gallery, this is what you will first see – a most charming grade II listed building, built in 1686 (or perhaps earlier). as with a lot of very old buildings they are altered and rebuilt over the centuries making them difficult to date accurately. this building was formerly the town’s almshouses – that is, a place providing shelter for the destitute & impoverished of the parish.

halesworth gallery - suffolk

i was surprised to discover that this building still functioned as almshouses up to the early 1960s (read more information on halesworth, its history and the halesworth town trail here). the halesworth gallery has exhibited art by some notable names in twentieth century british art – including sculptor elisabeth frink and the painters mary fedden RA, feliks topolski, josef herman, mary potter and margaret mellis

the selection of artists for inclusion in the halesworth gallery exhibition programme takes place in january following a national ‘call for artists’. the exhibitions are planned & organised by a gallery committee. the halesworth gallery is only open from may to september as the building is very old and unheated (it would be very costly to heat it effectively, given the restrictions laid down on modernising listed buildings). so, the halesworth gallery season closes each september with a fabulous ‘open’ art exhibition, where every artwork submitted (with some size restrictions) is exhibited. i am always amazed how efficiently & imaginatively this process is undertaken, and the exhibition always attracts a lot of visitors. i must actually remember to submit a little something this year!

the halesworth gallery is now an established exhibition venue in central suffolk, it is non-profit-making, run by a team of dedicated volunteers, with a commitment to showing high quality, contemporary art (including painting, printmaking & sculpture) by professional artists who have strong connections or links to suffolk or east anglia. ok, let’s go in and take a look around the current exhibition, ‘six abstract painters’

halesworth gallery, suffolk - six abstract painters art exhibition

this is the first room of the gallery, showing mixed media paintings by the painter mari french, along the leftside wall. on the small table is the gallery’s guest book. the view through the window looks across to the church…

halesworth gallery, suffolk - six abstract painters

over to the other side of the first room are mixed media paintings by norfolk artist anthea eames (with one of her paintings hung in the old fireplace). there are two more of mari french’s canvases to the right. these two small works by mari caught my eye, where she has used plaster & textile collage elements to build up surface texture…

halesworth gallery, suffolk - exhibition - six abstract painters

mari french, ancient landscapes IV & V, mixed media on plaster on panel

mari french’s recent series of paintings are inspired by the open landscapes of north norfolk, where she has recently moved to from the highlands of scotland – from one dramatic landscape to another. in mari’s own words: “light and atmospherics play a strong part in my finished pieces, where the build-up of complex layers and the exposure of under-painting all add to the visual intensity.

these two paintings by anthea eames are near the reception desk…

six abstract painters - exhibition - halesworth

anthea eames, coastal dwelling & coastal dreaming II,  mixed media, including norfolk woad, earth pigments and sand

anthea eames‘ map-like abstract paintings have strongly cultural resonances, bound up in the history of ancient sites or tribal landscapes. anthea says that: “my more recent work draws on my present home in Norfolk and frequent visits to Australia. Collecting impressions and subsequently working with these, I attempt to understand my place in these disparate worlds. Each location brings with it its own spirit, colour and textural palette.” also key to anthea’s process is that she sources & uses locally-derived pigments and earth minerals in her work, such as norfolk woad… these are the kind of paintings, embedded as they are with discreet layers of history and meaning, which ask to be deciphered slowly

on through to the next room of the gallery, we encounter the work of another norfolk-based artist, john midgley…

halesworth gallery, suffolk - six abstract painters - art exhibition

john midgley, marsh cut, threshold I & II, oil on canvas

i first came across one of john midgley’s paintings at salthouse 09, where i was also an exhibitor. he describes his paintings as “strident, gritty paintings that grab you by the collar and demand attention.”

this new series of landscape-derived works have a more subdued mood though, reminding me of the poetic daubings of cy twombly. you really have to see these paintings close-up to appreciate the gestural brushwork. this series of paintings are inspired by the same location, salthouse marshes. john has been a member of the salthouse art committee since 2008 and is also exhibiting in this year’s salthouse art exhibition, salthouse 11: ad limina, curated by art historian and gallery owner of art1821, laura williams…

the artist geraldine carratu is exhibiting some large canvases on the opposite wall; she is also based in norfolk. she works in both acrylics and oils. these three paintings worked well together, united in form and content…

halesworth gallery - six abstract painters - an exhibition

geraldine carratu, evening sail, harbour blue & beach hut

this leads us through to the third and final room of the gallery, one that feels lighter and more spacious. to the left are a series of canvases & works on panel by the london-based artist joan hickson. joan works with a muted colour palette and her paintings suggest the weathered elements of the coast…

halesworth gallery - six abstract painters - art exhibition

joan hickson, sleep I, mixed media on canvas, and waterfront study 1 -4, mixed media on board

and lastly, to some of my own paintings in this exhibition…

six abstract artists - art exhibition - halesworth gallery, suffolk

to the right, in the fireplace, the large canvas painting, edgescape rost

and over there, on the church-side wall, three farmscapes

six abstract arttists - exhibition - halesworth gallery, suffolk

farmscape VI, VII and II, mixed media on canvas

you can see more abstract farmscape paintings here…

art exhibition - six abstract painters

edgescape fenn

you can see more pictures of the abstract painting fenn here. the observant might also note a change in orientation – this is because this is (to me) a seasonal painting; in the spring the suggestion of new life rises up from the earth, in the winter it is sleeping below ground…

and lastly, to some of my small iCons

six abstract artists - art exhibition

wildwood I, II, III

six abstract artists - art exhibition

siena (top), congo and redwood (below)

six abstract painters artists - exhibition art gallery

close-up of one of the small iCons – redwood, 2011

you can see more images from this exhibition in the previous post: six abstract painters : an exhibition

Six Abstract Painters, Halesworth Gallery*, Steeple End, Opp. St Mary’s Church, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 8LL

28 May to 15 June 2011

open daily, Monday-Saturday 11am to 5pm, Sundays 2pm – 5pm…

if you are holidaying on the beautiful suffolk coast, or perhaps visiting aldeburgh, snape, southwold, walberswick or dunwich, the small market town of halesworth is only a short drive away, a few miles further inland from blythburgh church (with the legendary scratches of the fearsome ‘black shuck’, curious pew carvings representing the seven deadly sins and exquisitely carved angels high up in the roof), and not far from henham park (a private estate which hosts the annual latitude music festival). the town of halesworth is signposted off the a12.

*n.b. due to the unique character and age of the building those with mobility issues will find the steep, narrow stairs to the upstairs gallery difficult. please call the gallery on 01986 873064 should you require any assistance or more information prior to your visit…

addendum: the artist mari french has put up some photographs of the preview evening of ‘six abstract painters’ here…

six abstract painters : an exhibition

Saturday 28 May 2011

this is a small exhibition that i am currently showing some new paintings in, and as the title conveys, it features the work of six abstract painters, all with connections to east anglia. the artists are geraldine carratu, anthea eames, mari french, jazz green (that’s me!), joan hickson and john midgley. it opens today (saturday 28 may 2011) at the halesworth gallery, in the heart of rural suffolk…

i took these photographs of my paintings in the gallery on the day of the hanging. all went very smoothly, much helped by the assistance of jan & alan (and some tea & biscuits!). as any artist will tell you, transporting art & installing art exhibitions can be a tiring and sometimes stressful affair…

the halesworth gallery is wonderful space in which to show one’s work, as it has an honesty, simplicity & serenity that i find very appealing. it is not the white cube of a gallery space desired of most contemporary artists, but having recently exhibited in a 16th century church, the cellar of a medieval merchant’s house and two listed barns, halesworth gallery’s own period charm & modest character feels to be a ‘right’ context for my particular work (born as it is from the surrounding countryside), and i am very pleased to have been selected to exhibit here in 2011…

six abstract painters - an exhibition - halesworth art gallery, suffolk

this is the view of my art as you enter the third room of the gallery. my paintings are hung along the church-side wall (the gallery is directly opposite st mary’s church – i discovered some interesting lichens in the graveyard). note the ceiling with its old oak beams and the impressive inglenook fireplace – when i learnt that one could hang artwork in the fireplaces my red edgescape painting ‘rost‘ simply shouted to be included in this show. the floor (covered by some matting, under which i presume to be the original oak floorboards) has a gracefully uneven character about it too…

six abstract painters - an exhibition - halesworth art gallery

here are three of my abstract farmscape paintings from 2010, and this is their first public exhibition. i wondered if they might look a little too dark, cold or austere in this room as they are quite muted & monochromatic, but actually the light in the space seems to bring out the subtlety of colours and surface textures…

six abstract painters - art exhibition - halesworth gallery

this is looking back along the long expanse of white wall (it’s about 7 metres, with a casement window in the centre – this photograph is a bit washed-out), with the three farmscape paintings at the far end, another large edgescape painting, this one is called fenn, and then three canvases making their small entrance from the right…

six abstract painters exhibition - halesworth art gallery

the large abstract painting  fenn once again and six small works seen to the right, which leads around to the second fireplace in this room… i wanted quite a lot of whitespace around the painting fenn, but the green hue is subtly reflected in both farmscape II to the left and the three small abstract canvases situated on the right…

six abstract painters - jazz green - art exhibition - halesworth gallery

these are three new canvases from my ongoing travelling ‘iCons‘ series, wildwood I, II and III. i kind of broke my self-imposed rules of the iCons by giving all three abstract canvases the same title, but they had to be seen together in a sequence…

six abstract painters - an exhibition - halesworth art gallery - jazz green artist

to the right of the narrow doorway that leads back to the staircase are three more ‘iCons‘, siena, congo (there is a mention of congo here) and redwood. i chose to exhibit these three canvases together because of the obvious textural similarities to the architectural features of the room (dark oak beams and red brickwork)…

six abstract painters - paintings - exhibition halesworth art gallery

this photograph perhaps shows better how these three small canvases complemented or just ‘clicked’ in this particular location; i think that they hold their own quite well.

i am always reminded when i exhibit my work how very naturalistic, earthy and rustic my palette is for an abstract artist. it is a renewed sense of clarity about my work that i can’t always seem to realise within the confines of my very small studio.

there was perhaps another plan in my proposed layout for this exhibition, well a formative idea at least (that i was able to achieve in the end), that all my paintings if viewed from left to right would naturally transition from rusty red to deep brown or violet grey on to green and then into brown and rusty red again.

so, with all the paintings installed (as i had them originally mapped out on graph paper) i left the art gallery with a sense of all things in their rightful & purposeful place – and, at just that moment it began to rain. ever so slightly at first, like an erratic, hesitant wind-blown spray, an is-it-raining-or-not sort of rain, even though heavy rain showers had indeed been forecast, and it had been a blustery and overcast morning. soon enough the rain came down good and proper, but it was not enough of a downpour to call it a torrential rainstorm. the first fall of rain that afternoon brought about a fresh, dewy lustre to even the most parched of things – and the light green of the blossoming hedgerows were instantly repainted in a deeper, more luscious, vibrant green hue, set against the pale violet-grey sky.

this change in the atmospheric conditions, from so many days of sun to the cooler, changeable air seemed, metaphorically speaking, as if other matters were slowly shifting in alignment too. at least, this is what i momentarily thought as i headed back – mindful of the similarity to driving which focuses your attention on the road ahead but with a watchful glance back every now and again. the small window on the world that i was looking through was, at every precise sweep of the windscreen wipers, also clearing out the unnecessary clutter in my mind. i have some art out in the real world and can concentrate on some printmaking again.

given the simple title of this exhibition, i hope that my paintings will provide a small glimpse into my ‘abstracted’ world. i will have to visit the exhibition again as there wasn’t the opportunity to fully appreciate the other artists’ work at the private view, but it was most interesting to meet the other artists and talk with friends and old acquaintances – and it transpires that i have previously been in group exhibitions with both anthea eames and john midgley – and perhaps it sort of makes natural sense, really – it is in the landscape of east anglia.

the exhibition ‘six abstract painters’ is on until wednesday 15 june 2011, and i hope it will, to coin a well-worn phrase, be something of an eye-opener to anyone who might consider ‘abstract painting’ is only about colour, pattern or moving paint around on a canvas until it looks ‘right’. all the painters in this exhibition respond to the ‘landscape’, the implicit emotional engagement or dialogue that exists between the artist, the places where they live or work and the substance or language of paint . i think i might write more about this particular aspect in another post, after i have revisited the exhibition…

Six Abstract Painters, Halesworth Gallery, Steeple End, opp. St Mary’s Church, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 8LL, 28 May to 15 June 2011, open daily, Monday-Saturday 11am to 5pm, Sundays 2pm – 5pm…

*please note, due to the unique character and age of the building those with mobility issues will find the steep, narrow stairs to the upstairs gallery difficult. please call the gallery on 01986 873064 should you require any assistance or more information prior to your visit…