Category Archives: listening

Contrasts

What a difference a couple of weeks can make! Two weeks ago I was in the far west of  Cornwall. After a fantastic first day everything rather went down hill. Firstly, I got a cold (the first for 2 years), and secondly the weather deteriorated into rain (heavy at times) and gales. It made for exciting conditions, standing on the top of cliffs, looking down at huge, rolling waves and being battered by force 8 winds. The conditions meant that I didn’t manage to do as much drawing as I had hoped, however, the rain did stop occasionally, the sun did make an appearance (rarely), I did manage a few walks and some sketching was done.

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Looking to Pendeen watch from east of Porthmeor Beach. Grey Granite. Green grass. Grey/blue sea. Grey/blue sky is lighter than the sea which has a softly edged dark stripe along the horizon.

The landscape in Cornwall is vibrant.  The colours are strong and the lines and forms of the land and water are dynamic. All around there is constant activity and movement. When I was there the noise of the wind and the waves was tremendous; it filled the ears and was a real presence. I draw fast, moving pencil, pen and paint over the paper at speed: look, scribble, look, scribble. It is an energetic response to a vigorous landscape.

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Looking down on a boiling sea and rock stack at Porthmeor Beach. Jade green/blue sea. White/jade waves froth around the rocks.

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Rocks at Kynance Cove.

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Cliffs at Kynance Cove.

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Deep black gully looking back from Gurnard’s head.

Back here in Wells on the far east side of the country the contrast couldn’t have been more different this weekend as there were clear, bright days with hot sunshine. Sitting at the beachhut early in the morning, I watched the beach gradually fill with people coming to enjoy the summer sunshine. The long horizontal lines of the landscape languidly mingle and intertwine and although the light is brilliant there is still a subtle blue/grey cast to its colour. Everything appears calm.  Even the incoming tide, that creeps slowly over the sand, filling gullies and submerging exposed sandbanks, moves so slowly it is almost indiscernible. There is movement and change but, at the moment, it is a much quieter energy than that of the Cornish landscape. I draw a line, look and then draw another line. I smooth and gently wash the paint across the paper, filling the brush with colour and letting it drip and mingle as it will. It is a considered response to a contemplative landscape.

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The tide is coming in. The sun is bright with a westerly wind. The sky is cloudless and the sea is a shade darker. A dark line on the horizon.

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British Sharpie Championship lining up for the star of the race. The sound of the hooter carries (loudly) over the water.

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Bunched up before the race.

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A beautiful brown sail boat (runs) sails past the gap in the dunes.

Thankfully the cold has gone!

Cornwall walk – On Gurnard’s Head

About 1.30 pm. Brilliant sunshine with white/grey streaky clouds. A strong westerly wind.

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I have been walking along the SW coastal path all morning and have just arrived at Gurnard’s Head, a small headland on the North coast of Cornwall. With a tricky scramble over rocks I’ve managed to reach a rocky outcrop high above the sea. Exposed to the Atlantic I feel exhilarated.

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I’m facing into the wind and looking straight out to sea. Behind me are cliffs and at 10 o’clock, in the far distance on another jutting headland, is the Pendeen Watch lighthouse. The granite rocks at the bottom of the cliffs are brilliant with yellow lichen – they shine, slick with seawater, in the bright sun.

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In stark contrast, rising up behind the glassy rocks, are deep, dark fissures that have been worn into the cliffs by millennia of pounding seas. The shadows of these clefts are rendered so dark by the glaring sun that no detail can be seen within them. Small white seagulls wheel in and out of the black gullies, briefly showing in relief against the darkness before disappearing as they are backed by a white and blue sunlit sea. They glide round in slow, lazy loops, in turn emerging and vanishing.

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As I face directly into the wind, it roars uninterruptedly in both ears. I only have to turn my head slightly to the left or right and the sound fades. I like the slightly chilly wind on my face in the warm sun.

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Beneath me the sea boils. Waves constantly beat the rocks below; frothing up and pulling back. One rock slopes at 45 degrees into the sea. Pounded by waves, it is submerged in a coat of white sea spume before reappearing as the swell drags the beaten water back down again into the jade/blue translucent morass.

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The sea is rarely like this in Wells. There, its soft grey/blue flatness creeps slowly backwards and forwards tide after tide. Here, on this part of the Cornish coast, the sea is energetic, heaving, rolling and frothed. Each wave is dashed violently against the land, its energy exhausted as it is flung upwards and outwards.

My Place

After several weeks of intense teaching, making work and travelling I am back in Wells for a couple of weeks before putting up The Archive Project exhibition in London at the beginning of May. I went down to the beach this afternoon for a walk and it is really good to be back here.

I have just returned from Switzerland where I was teaching an ‘Exploring Place’ workshop and it was wonderful to explore and discover a new environment. The weather was as good as it could have been with sunshine and clear blue skies and the long reaching views of mountains weaving together into the far distance were beautiful …. but it’s not home. It’s not the place that calls and that feels right.

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This afternoon it was a bit grey, although blue patches (enough to make a sailor’s trousers) gave the promise of clearer skies. There was a cold westerly wind and the tide was out. First impressions were that it was rather bleak and there wouldn’t be much to see. But, as always, as I walked a story emerged.

At low tide the contours of the beach are revealed. These change frequently, often from tide to tide. Water is trapped in hollows and small channels, that I call ‘sea rivers’.

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Oystercatchers were stepping around and about the shallow water and as I approached they took off, flying further down the beach with their ‘peep, peep’ call.

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Footprints left in the sand show their frenetic activity.

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The gusting wind freckled the water on the sea rivers …..

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and blew dry sand across the wet beach.

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Wind and water combine to produce an ever-changing picture.

It’s lovely to go away and have new experiences but it’s even better to come back.

And again the wind

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On the beach a stiff wind.

But in the pinewoods – stillness.

 

A slow crescendo. A gust gently swells

And its hastening rush journeys around from treetop to treetop before quietening.

 

Again the wind touches the trees, but its voice comes from another direction.

In the woods it is difficult to pinpoint its bearing.

 

Again the wind swells.

The sound of dry, cracking wood as its intensity peaks.

Dropping pinecones. Trees crack.

 

A wood-pigeon flies past and lands clumsily with flapping wings and a clatter.

Then, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu.

 

And again the wind swells.

Trees gently sway.

Far away, seagull cry, and traffic rumble. Dog walkers walk wordlessly past.

 

And again the wind swells.

Above, a longer, more sustained gust dies and builds repeatedly.

On the ground – stillness.

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Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 1 – Cley

There is a ‘big’ high tide and I decide to go for a walk at Cley.  Driving past the quay at Wells I see the environment agency people out in full force and so decide to drive down to the quay at Blakeney on the way, just to have a look.

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A strong northerly wind is pushing the water higher than it is supposed to go, and the water is lapping over Blakeney quay. When the wind pushes the tide in like this it becomes obvious why tall, sturdy poles line its edge. The boats strain their moorings as they level with the top of the quay and are pushed up against the restraining posts by the wind and the water; without these poles the boats would be grounded, high and dry, as the water ebbs away.

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I carry on to Cley and driving down the road to the beach I can see enormous waves topping the shingle bank – it is going to be a dramatic sight. The car park just behind the beach is full of water; the sea seems to be seeping through the shingle and filling the lower ground. Out of the car I’m hit by the full force of the wind and quickly realise that a walk along the beach would be potentially dangerous as huge waves are crashing high up the beach, higher than I have ever seen them go before. In places they top the bank and surge down the other side onto the marsh.

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As I stand and watch, other people appear, and also stand mesmerised by the boiling sea. They have cameras and take photos but I have nothing to record the scene with. Instead I just look.

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Spray is blown high into the sky by the wind as the waves peak and then crash down. The sound is deafening: a loud, thundering roar that resonates deep inside you and the rasping, scrape of stones as they are pulled by the back draft. Seagulls are swooping low, flying just above the waves. They seem to be playing dare, as every now and then one flies below a breaking crest into the seething belly of the wave, before rising up again to glide, unconcerned, above the foaming water.

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It’s hard to describe the power and insistence of the sea, but when I get home I do some drawings to try and capture its movement …. I think they are rather too tame!

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Breathing deeply

I haven’t been up in Wells for a month as my life recently has been taken up with exhibiting and teaching. It has been hectic but exciting. I had a flying visit yesterday for one night as I wanted to go the the AGM of the North Norfolk Exhibition Project. I showed work for this wonderful organisation at Cley Church in the summer and I’ll be putting in a proposal for CLEY17 next year.

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I managed to fit in 2 walks in the 24 hours that I was there – a chance to stretch my legs and to take some deep breaths of fresh air. This morning I got up at dawn (which isn’t that early at this time of year) to have a look around.

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It was high tide and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The sun was just coming up, peeping through building clouds and silhouetting  the pontoon and boats as I looked back towards the town. The still water was like a mirror as the sunlight was reflected back into the sky. Geese were chattering, out of sight, over on the marsh and every now and then there was the peep of a redshank. The wash of a lone fishing boat split the flat water in two as it wended its way, twisting backwards and forwards, along the channel out to the open water.

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I sat on a bench quietly to look and listen – there was no one else about.

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It’s good to breathe deeply and relax.