Finally, it has arrived, the best part of being a lecturer. The summer holidays! Protracted time for my own creative practice.
First, a meeting with Jim over cake and coffee to discuss our forthcoming show. The title, our joint statement, timings, wall space. It is all beginning to feel a bit more real.
Next day, the restoration of an antique contact printer which has now been fitted with a UV light source along with the bathroom being converted into a part-time darkroom for argyrotype production. Nuanced sepia tones in sympathy with the showcase theme. This iron-based silver alternative printing process being one part of several employed methodologies, for I have also been painting, sepia toning fibre based photographs and plan to make some experimental lumen prints. I have made lumen prints before, accidentally in the darkroom whilst making pinhole images. The scraps of trimmed down photographic paper revealing the graphic images of the pair of scissors left on them. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these photograms can be saved. To save the image the normal process would be to place an exposed photogram into developer, stop bath and fixer. If you did this with lumen prints though the paper would go completely black as they have been grossly overexposed. Instead, these eerie strange coloured prints are just placed in the fixer. Reading up I have discovered that expired paper is great for this process, rendering unpredictable results. I am excited to report that over the years I have amassed a stock!
'Traces' - Eden Court Theatre, 30th October to 24th November
'Traces' is a collaborative exhibition featuring the work of artists Jim Boon and Oonagh Devoy.
The work explores themes common to both artists which centre on how landscape, both rural and urban, coastal and hinterland, are in perpetual flux due to causes like time, elemental forces, or human and animal activity. These forces serve to continually modify the environment in an imperceptibly subtle way.
The exhibition features paintings and photographs inspired by this shared narrative and is selected to reflect a compatible and complimentary aesthetic.
The end of the year is always a time for collective contemplation. Analysing what has transpired, wondering if we could have changed the outcomes with better made judgments. Trusting we are wiser individuals, looking into the future with courage and hope.
Last week my best friend from primary school died. Death seems more shocking when the person who has passed on is younger or the same age as yourself. Again, you contemplate and look backwards. This time it is a period of introspection, you feel more panicked and vulnerable, more deeply aware of your fragility.
Then there are the happy reflective times. Today my child turned 21 and we celebrated with family and friends at a birthday lunch. A celebration of togetherness, tenderness, and optimism.
There is an extra date each year when I am reminded of the passing of time, the end of the college academic year. When I accepted my 6-hour contract in 2001, I never expected that two decades later I would be the only f/t member in the Arbroath Art Department. The department has changed dramatically, and I wish I had understood at the outset what I was about to lose and gain.
It had never been my ambition to teach full-time. However, personal circumstances dictated that I was responsible for paying all the bills, and for a time I felt cheated that I didn’t have the time to be a creative. That was until I realised that I was being creative every day! Collaborating on college days with creative fervent minds, learning new skills year on year, transcribing ideas for future projects and seeking out new exhibiting opportunities. The next exhibition being a joint show at The Eden Court Theatre with my friend Jim Boon, an artist whom I admire greatly and am in awe of. So, there is much work to be done this summer in the studio so as not to show him up. I believe it is always best to work and play with people who are more accomplished as it forces you to better yourself. Your trajectory must be upwards, and you must try your hardest to not be afraid to fail. For we learn as much from failure as we do from success.
Ignorance or arrogance...?
Arrogance I'm afraid, I have always believed I was superhuman. I thought that my perfect eyesight would last forever. So when four years ago I was prescribed reading glasses, I was shocked and didn't wear them. At my next eye test 2 years later I was prescribed a stronger pair. This time the glasses could no longer be ignored - I had noticed the decline myself. I was indignant.
Please understand my frustration, my eyes are my job, observation to aid creation. Forever I am banging on at my students, "95% looking, 5% drawing". When I take photographs I have always preferred to use the manual settings. I hate not being in control...
So it seemed apt when I was gifted a roll of Kodak Recording Film 2475 by a neighbour. A high speed, very coarse grain film that is prone to fogging, (a cruel metaphor?) Perfect for my next outing with my architect friend Mark Chalmers to Montreathmont Woods. A location that has separate symbolisation for us both.
For myself, it has several special timeframes. As a youth, myself, my brother and our friends would cycle there for adventures. In my late teens, my parents moved to a cottage at the edge of the woods. This time exploration became braver as I ventured deeper into the thick coniferous forest. Latterly, Montreathmont became a place that I visited in self hypnosis. A calming, restorative, safe environment. The textures and smells comforting - dense musty moss underfoot neighbouring peaty warm ponds that enveloped and cradled. It is no exaggeration to say it has been a spiritual place of healing for me.
What endured as a place of healing for myself however was also the setting of a battle between the Picts and the Romans, at Battle Well, Montreathmont Moor. A bloody battle where it was recounted that the blood of the fallen flowed in the Battle Burn as far as Fithie, near Farnell. The blood that flowed so freely having long ago been absorbed by the land. The numerous deaths unevidenced except for bones of the past that emerge from time to time from the earth.
It has been decades since I last physically visited, so I was curious if time had fogged my memory as well as my eyesight. As you would expect many trees have fallen or been felled, but essentially the ambience of Montreathmont remains.
I believe it is me that has changed more dramatically.
Seems that Mark gifted me the film some time ago.
I did wonder as I thought it was strange that the 2475 came with a bundle of Truprint.
Which suits the theme of this months blog, Fogging!
Composition One - Evening of the 26th
cat cleaning herself and scratching
pooooft snap crackle crackle
slup slup slup slup slup fftt fftt fftt fft fftt fftt fftt
Composition Two - Early hours of the 27th
my pain in layers
my tinitus - white noise and ringing
slow breathing - i cannot sleep
the dull pain in my feet that is plantar fasciitis
uuurrrrr hurrrr uuurrrrr hurrrr uuurrrrr hurrr uuurrrrr hurrrr
I was 100% certain I had my house keys. Would have bet big money on it. I had been tapping my top pocket at intervals all day to make sure that they where still there, worried that the zip may come undone. Yet here I anxiously find myself with no keys! Well...not exactly true. There are keys, just not the ones I need to get into the cottage.
So now I must patiently sit it out in my car till another member of the family returns. Five satellites, one shooting star, two damp cold feet and three hours later... Losing/misplacing stuff happens far too regularly in my life...
My morning on the other hand had begun dreamily, an early start waiting in my car at an agreed rendezvous point for my friend Mark Chalmers. The rain heavily and hypnotically battering down and threatening to ruin the day. Undeterred by the precipitation, we made our way Northwards to Rannoch, hoping to outrun the weather. Our mission? Catch up, explore, take photos, eat good food.
It was a reflective and calm expedition, the road trip was relaxed. Conversation with Mark is easy, we always have lots to talk about. Work, family, exploring, cameras and other miscellaneous geeky shit. He is an encyclopaedic phenomenon. That said, we are equally happy to be in each others company in silence, and today there was much to be in reverence and respectfully silent to:
I didn't realise how much I was needing to be outdoors till I was here! At several points I had to embrace the sky and fill my lungs deeply with the moist earthy atmosphere. The natural environment was restorative, though I noted that if I had lain in it's arms overnight, it would have killed me.
It has been far too long since I committed to my blog.
This is not because I haven’t had stories I wished to share, there have been several. The one story that I am sorry I didn’t relate at the time, was easily my happiest day during lockdown. An invitation by Farmer Eck Phillips to feed milk to his orphaned cows and stroke the ears of the donkey that freely wandered the farm. The experience was unexpected, surreal, and innocent.
The first reason for my reflective absence was work. It has been exhausting. I have laboured far beyond my 9-5 remit this academic year to make the remote learning experience as straightforward and inspiring as I could. It has been a tougher year for my students though.
The second reason?
For the last several months I have been struggling with my sense of ‘self’. I have lived in Scotland for most of my life, but I am not Scottish. I was born in England, and yet I am not English either. I am adrift, searching for a new means in which to define who I am and where I fit in. This, I am sad to say, is the juncture I find myself at.
My search for a resolution has begun with the renovation of a garage which will soon be my new studio. To date I have patch plastered the walls to consolidate them. On Thursday last the electrician installed plugs and a strip light. My next task is to source a workbench.
And so, a new ‘pilgrimage’ begins…
I am dog tired and desperate for sleep but my mind and heart are racing. This is the reason I am now ascending the hill next to the cottage at 3.30am, the waxing moon politely lighting my way. There is a biting chill and I am glad my face is protected by my scarf, I hate extremes of either hot or cold. The sky is clear, it is the best night sky I have seen for a while. I look upwards, spinning around to survey the stars, straying off course and into the verge. There is a stillness that calms me.
On my journey I am lucky enough to see two shooting stars. I make my secret wishes, one for me and one for a friend. I feel guilty that I didn't use my wish to save the planet.
I was hoping that the essence of my friend would stop by and say goodbye before she departed this mortal coil. Perhaps she did? Kissed me gently so as not to disturb my slumber.
And so it is, my friend is with us no longer.
Who was she? She was a strongly independent and brave woman. A global traveller and explorer. A lifelong student. She was kind, did not judge me, was lots of fun and the right kind of naughty. But most of all she was an inspiration and I loved her very much.
Caroline Hampton Robertson, 15/08/1938 - 15/12/2020
An emotional and demonstrative soul. I believe that I have always embraced what life has proffered, headfirst and passionately without considering the consequences. Sometimes this manoeuvre prevails, sometimes I crash. Either way my life experiences have enriched and formed me into the person I am today.
At the beginning of the year my life changed dramatically when I moved to the countryside and in the springtime I found myself the passenger of the tractor that sew the barley field opposite my new home. I remember being surprised that the seed was red in colour, encased in a coating to protect it before germination. As the barley was mechanically placed into the earth the perfume evicted from the transposed warm blanket of fertile soil was sensual...erotic.
In the months thereafter I observed with wonder a slow/fast time lapse as the ground transmuted brown to green then golden.
Harvest time is now upon us and for the last few mornings I have observed that the air now hangs heavier, and as I breathe in deeply I can taste the fields that have already been harvested. The distillation reminding me that the closing of the summer is near.
No longer do the days need to be titled, for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday hold no meaning for me now. Time has sloweeeeeed.............waaaaaarped............meeeeerged. I feel like I have been transported back in time into a Thomas Hardy novel. That Tess of the d'Urbervilles may be working in a field by me.
As the lock down continues my daily walks have evolved. To begin with I propelled myself belligerently, a reflex response to the enforced confinement. Today my outings are gentler, meditative, introspective. Time has slowed and I with it. Less has become more as I have begun to notice signs and make sightings of the animals I share this landscape with.