‘Sitting here on the marsh – perched on the remains of an old wooden boat that has been stranded above the high water line and left to rot – the only sounds that I can hear, apart from the wind blowing through my ears, are those of birds: oystercatchers, gulls, a skylark. There is a constant tweeting and chattering interspersed by the occasional raucous caw of a crow (or is it a rook?). The bird calls rarely stop and create a wonderful aural background to the landscape I am looking at.
The birds are also visible. A flock of brent geese flies up over the marsh to the north. Circling round in a huge murmuration they suddenly head west, flying low, looking for food as the tide goes out exposing nutrient rich mud. Oystercatchers high step over the mud bobbing and pecking and gulls glide elegantly on invisible air currents.
The only bird I can’t see but can hear is a curlew. Its brown body conceals it perfectly against the background of mud and marsh and its call rises above the other bird’s song. It is a sound to make you wonder. A low drawling note rises to an eerie trilling, bubbly ripple. An unmistakeable melancholy sound.
‘From the river
I hear voices,
Like souls abandoned
Curlews are calling.
Birds of the Fenland, though you float or fly,
Wild birds, I cannot understand your cry.’
From the libretto by William Plomer. Curlew River, Benjamin Britten
I’ve often tried to capture the song in a sound recording but have failed up to now – the machine never seems to be switched on at the right time.
How happy it makes me to hear its call. It reminds me of childhood holidays on the banks of the Tresillian river in Cornwall where we spent time on the water in a little dingy called Curly named after the birds that were so numerous there. Curlews seemed to be more abundant than up here on the North Norfolk coast. Here it is a special moment when the curlew calls unseen from the depth of the marsh.’
The hermit-like side of my personality relishes the opportunity to be alone for short periods of time and over the past week I have had the opportunity to shut myself away, take solitary walks and think. This brief period of reclusiveness is nearly over (I should now busy cleaning the house and cooking as my family is coming down like a deluge for the Easter weekend!) but I have come to a bit of a decision about my next piece of work.
A reflective period is always good. It’s a time to let your mind wander along no particular path, to let thoughts come to the fore or to consolidate ideas that have been pushed back but that won’t go away. One of those niggling ideas has been scratching away at me for some time and I’ve now decided that I don’t want to push it away again.
As you may have realised I’ve been drawing a lot recently and my sketchbook has accompanied me on nearly all of my walks – quick sketches, watercolours and drawings have all found their way onto its pages. I seldom work from my drawings. Instead they work as a sort of discipline – to stop, to look, to listen – to pay attention and to understand what is going on around me. I have been thinking that I should take these scribbles out of the sketchbook to live a life of their own but I realise now that I can’t (or won’t) do it.
Instead I’ve been thinking back to a piece of work that I did 7 years ago that was inspired by the music of Benjamin Britten and the North Norfolk landscape. It was a visual notation that merged landscape and music – a graphic score based on writing down sound through drawing. This piece connected the repetitive and rhythmic elements of the music and movements within the landscape.
Sea Interlude, 6m x 50cms, 2008
I’ve always wanted to do another piece on the same scale but felt that it would be going backwards – a re-tracing of old ground, but I’ve realised that it couldn’t possibly be a going backwards. Everything I’ve done between then and now would intervene to prevent it from being a rehash. Even using similar textile techniques it wouldn’t ever be the same. My recent drawing activity has reinforced the idea that looking at the rhythms and energies of nature is (in my mind at least) the same experience as listening to it. I have a need to do another piece of work that connects and consolidates these ideas.
I’ve talked myself into it – I’m doing the research and going for it! More details later …..
This morning I went to Stiffkey for a mosey around. Boots, hat and gloves were needed as there was a sharp wind and it was cold, even though the sun was bright and its faint warmth occasionally managed to penetrate my waxed jacket. I had a backpack with a sketchbook and drawing stuff.
Picking my way along a path straight out towards the marsh the mud sucked at my boots. I had to scan the ground in front of my feet to find the driest, least slippery route – the slick, wetness of the mud would have had me over in a trice without concentration. Although looking intently at the ground I was still aware of what was going on around me. A skylark hovered just above, its wings barely visible, flickering up and down as it rose higher into the sky, its song becoming fainter. My clumsy footsteps disturbed a flock of brent geese that rose, chattering, into the air and the wind ruffled the dry grasses either side of the path.
Out on the marsh I faced north, looked towards the sea and drew.
My tendency is always to look north – here on the North Norfolk coast the sea always draws me. The mutability of this edgeland is endlessly fascinating – nothing is ever the same as the tide washes in and out twice a day. But today I turned around and looked back towards where I had come from. The sun shone through a stand of trees on the edge of the marsh, their winter bones, lace, as they stood silhouetted against the fields beyond.
I am absolutely delighted to have had three works accepted for the 62 Group Now exhibition at the Upfront Gallery, Unthank, Penrith. This is the first time I have exhibited with the group and I am very excited.
The exhibition is on from the 17 March to 10 May and the address is Upfront Gallery, Unthank, Nr. Hutton in the Forest, Penrith, CA11 9TG
I submitted three Salt works:
a wall piece ….
9 Hanging Salt Pots
and two free standing pieces ….
5 Blue Salt Pots (series 2)
3 Black Salt Pots
If you are in the North of England please do go along and have a look!
Last weekend I had a very enjoyable day running a workshop for Phoenix Contemporary Textiles Group. They chose to do the Exploring Colour workshop that is inspired by the colourful and exuberant work of one my favourite artists – Terry Frost. The workshop is based on a painting exercise that Frost devised for his students while teaching at Reading University where he taught painting from 1964-1981.
The aim of this exercise is to create a full palette of colours using only red, blue and yellow paint. The colours range from almost black (which is created by using all three colours together) to pure red, blue and yellow. Papers are painted and then used to make abstract collages that reference Terry Frost’s work and are inspired by colour and shape.
Here are some of the fabulous pieces of work that Phoenix produced…
It is wonderful when something you have to do coincides with something you want to do and this has just happened with a Studio 21 short project. The brief was to make something with a sewing machine, from any material and that is capable of making a repetitive sound. Well, this of course is right up my street.
Having spent the whole of last summer making Aeolian Pipes that sounded in the wind (look for the Aeolian Pipes and Air-Songs Booklet link in the righthand sidebar to read all about them), I have been considering making a series of works that will sound when they are picked up and touched. The Studio 21 brief has given me the impetus to start.
This is the first pot ….
…. it starts with a rough, low, grating as you run your fingernails slowly up the lower seams and then the pitch rises at the end to add a full stop to the sound. It reminds me of the rhythmical creaking of wood on wood as boats are gently pushed up to a jetty by rising and falling waves.
I always have the radio on as I’m working especially if I have a mundane, repetitive task to do. This afternoon as I was making samples for a forthcoming workshop, I caught an episode of Ramblings with Claire Balding on Radio 4 which was particularly interesting. It has left me thinking and I thought it was worth mentioning it to you.
The present series of Ramblings discovers how walking can be a way of bonding; with friends or other people etc. Today’s episode was with travel writer Philip Marsden and considered how walking could be a way of bonding with place. Philip Marsden has just written a book, Rising Ground, in which he explores why we react so strongly to certain landscapes and what makes them so special.
His new book includes thoughts about the area of Cornwall where he now lives. He talks about falling in love with the place – with all the feelings, sensitivities and yearnings that go with that state. It is, he says, an intense and physical response and one that is fundamental to whom we are – we define ourselves through the experiences and stories that we encounter in that place. It is an idea I relate to. The more you know a place the more you learn to love it. You become sensitive to its little quirks and changes; you can become upset by careless planning verdicts or if an eyesore is allowed to ruin a view. You’re elated when you encounter an animal or bird in an unusual place (like the first time I saw a seal up Sluice Creek in Wells far from their normal stomping ground …. Do seals stomp?).
So why do we react in such a way with certain places? Is it because of the associations we have with places we knew as children and the value we put on those places? Or is it the shape of the land? Marsden talks about geographical characteristics that have historically attracted people to a particular spot– he calls them collective places. These locations have an extraordinary presence that has always been special and consequently stories and myths have built up around them.
However what I love isn’t necessarily going to be what you love – your feelings won’t be the same as mine. Each one of us senses a place differently. Our mind and our eyes are in constant interaction – how we see, or indeed use all our senses, is conditioned by our brains and so our feelings for a place are personal. They are determined by prior knowledge and experience, subjective perception and selection.
There is much to think about and if you were wondering about the title of this post: Topophilia is a love of or emotional connection with place or physical environment. The photos are from a ramble of my own taken at Wells last weekend.