Moon Set: 04.59. Sun Rise: 05.34
Location: Cogden Beach, Chesil. Watching the pink moon descend infront of the white/ lemon froth of Sea Kale flowers. Already at 4am one lark was singing....
then texture of lark-song
then blackbird + unknowns with lark
then everyone singing
Below is a response to a watercolour study I made of a dipper the other week. I've not seen one close to home before -I associate them with wilder waters... so I was keen to make note of it in my sketchbook. The writing below is by Stephen Batty and I'm grateful that my little study prompted these five meditations!
Try the other eye
five meditations on a sketch of a dipper by Frances Hatch
Shortly after spotting the dipper that had arrived at the River Bride, ten minutes walk from our home, Frances painted it. She dipped the Chinese brush into clean water and then loaded the wet hairs with watercolour, before making a dipper-shape on her sketchbook page.
Her eye was not after an anatomically perfect representation of clincus clincus, the rotund member of the ousel family that haunts flowing water. Rather, the action of dipping the brush into water, then into ink, then making the brush tip dip toward the paper constituted a likeness to the action of the bird itself – a dipper-likeness, so to speak. This quality is not in the photograph Frances took at the time she spotted the dipper. The camera lens barely registered the creature's white bib and you have to look pretty hard to make it out.
In Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, during a Lakeland adventure which takes young Titty Walker and her siblings a good distance from home, Titty tries to focus a telescope on the diminishing figure of her mother. Her eye is so brimful of tears that she can't focus properly.“That’s with looking too hard”, she tells herself “Try the other eye.” [i]Frances' Chinese brush painting of the West Dorset dipper is, I think, a try with “the other eye.”
If there is such a thing as looking too hard, with too close a scrutiny, too sharp a scope, then Titty Walker learns that there are other ways of seeing – seeing with “the other eye”- and her lesson comes through an encounter with a dipper. She comes across the creature on an island shore. Her eye is drawn to the kind of behaviour described in a pocket guide book I have on the shelf: ‘undoubtedly when entering the water it grips with its strong feet but the method of progression beneath the surface is by swimming, using the wings– flying under water.’ [ii] Momentarily Titty's curious gaze is drawn away from the amphibious dipper and towards a steamer on the lake. This man-made object has a purchase on the surface but it is unlike the bird which is at home above and under the water. Titty's eyes return to the dipper: the creature appears to her to have a ‘careless kind of curtsey.' Her reaction could be called anthropocentric: Titty has projected onto the dipper that brand of human behaviour we call 'manners', actions which don't really belong to the world of a small brown bobbing water bird. But might branding Titty's response be unfair to her ?
Remember that she sees the bird's curtsey as careless. The world of 'manners' is a world of caution. The dipper's actions, below and above the water, are without such care. And it as if we, along with Titty Walker, are invited to look just a little bit harder at the dipper which moves ‘as if it were in the air, fast along the bottom of the lake.’ When it resurfaced, the dipper ‘went on flying with no difference at all.. except that in the air its wings moved faster.’
Titty finds herself so overtaken by awe at this sight that she instinctively bows and she thinks to herself:
‘It’s very hard not to bob to a dipper when a dipper bobs to you.’
It seems to me that Titty's bobbing to the bowing dipper is a form of respect, and a significant one because it is instinctive and not constrained by thought. The reader is left to imagine how the sight of the dipper (the tell-tale bubbles it made below the water and the gratuitous spray it caused when it bobbed out ) caused Titty Walker to bow back.
Something very much like this response to the non human world was recorded by the travel writer Barry Lopez after he visited the Arctic region. [iii]
As one reviewer of Lopez' Arctic Dreams noted 'the book begins and ends with a bow.' Right at the end of Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez describes joining an Inuit hunting party who track down a walrus and kill it. Lopez can't reconcile in his mind the way in which his Eskimo hosts reverence the natural world and yet, when they make a significant kill, they aren't pious about it, and they express tremendous joy in bloodletting. Lopez cannot get his mind around this. And he finds himself instinctively bowing, a gesture that is not simply about consent or politeness, but the physical and emotional and spiritual need to submit to what one cannot understand with the conscious mind. The reviewer of Arctic Dreams suggests that Lopez' bowing was a bodily way of negotiating a paradox, a gentle submitting to something outside oneself that cannot be controlled by an any strategy of the reasoning mind. And there's bowing or bobbing at the opening of Barry Lopez' book too.
Lopez walks by himself on the Arctic tundra in the twilight, amazed at the unexpected sight of nests made by plovers and snowy owls.
‘Their eggs glowed with a soft, pure light, like the window light in a Vermeer painting. I marvelled at this intense and concentrated beauty on the vast table of the plain.’
'I would bow slightly with my hands in my pockets, toward the birds and the evidence of life in their nests-because of their fecundity, unexpected in this remote region, and because the serene arctic light that came down over the land like breath, like breathing.'
The two kinds of bowing were in different locations and situations, but something links them. Radical astonishment at a community which rejoices in bloodletting and reverencing elicits a bow because Lopez realizes his reasoning mind has its limits; and it is radical astonishment that has Lopez bob in appreciation of Vermeer-like beauty showing up in the birds' eggs he stumbles across in an unhospitable place.
Titty Walker's dipper bobbed out of sight. She waited.‘But it did not come.’ What arrives in the wake of the bird's disappearance is a realization that the island had to be guarded against Amazons.
Ransome does not overload this passage of writing with too much ecological freight, but the suggestion here is that the dipper's appearance – and disappearance – has taught Titty something about reverence and the protection of environments where reverence can become as natural as breathing, as natural as Barry Lopez found it when, hands in pockets, he bowed toward the fecund tundra birds. It is as if Titty learns to plunge, as a dipper plunges, from one medium into another: from reality (a bird flying underwater!) to imagination (imagining that, out of reverence, such habitats need some kind of guarding.
As Titty peers down at the dipper as it moves underwater she presses on nearby rock. She sees it as my pocket guide to birds describes it: 'head well down, its body oblique, it holds itself down by muscular exertion.’
Titty Walker is a fictional character who shows us something of what it might be like to harness an act of will with a feat of imagination. She presses into the rock as she observes the bird. When it disappears from sight she presses her imagination to consider what guarding the dipper's environment might mean.
Like the dipper, she has learned to become an adept in two regions. In the character of Titty Walker, gravity of the will (how can I keep on looking?) and imagination’s wings (how can I go on guarding?) come together.
'I can't coax the bird to my hand' wrote poet Kathleen Jamie after an encounter with a dipper at a waterfall. [iv]On the morning Frances sighted the dipper near our house, her photograph could not coax the creature any nearer. But if her sketch succeeded it was through not trying to coax the dipper to her hand but by dipping the Chinese brush into clean water, then loading the wet bristles with watercolour, before making on her sketchbook page a fine, proud dipper-likeness.
[i] Arthur Ransome 'Swallows and Amazons', Random House, 2001, p. 224.
[ii] The quotes concerning Titty's sighting of the dipper come from the chapter 'Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday' in 'Swallows and Amazons.' The pocket guide referred to is 'The Birds of The British Isles & Their Eggs: A Handy Pocket Guide With Descriptive Text' by T.A .Coward, Frederick Warne & Co. 1920.
[iii] Barry Lopez 'Arctic Dreams; Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape', Picador, 1987.
[iv] Kathleen Jamie's poem 'The Dipper.'
An unlikely juxtaposition: breaking news of Donald Tump declaring victory and gannets plunging through the salt spray as the Commodor Clipper pitched and rolled its way towards Guernsey. 09/11/16
Below- sketchbook drawings en route.
bob, light, forward, back...a page of visual notes along the way...
I had an invitation to see the coastline local to me from the vantage point of a boat this week. We went out before the sun rose and stayed out for about 3 hours watching the contours of the coastline emerge and seeing its long rhythms , faults and tilts. All of these I've read about but not seen for myself.
Bobbing like a cork in the places where the wind funnelled through valleys I was continually shifting position horizontally in relation to the land as well as experiencing vertical and involuntary movement. See the drawing above.
As soon as I began to allow my tools to be moved rather than attempt control over them I immediately began to enjoy the feeling of tool on paper. Hasty, messy, random, wind 'grabbing ...a real treat.
I am related to champion ice skaters in the Ouse Washes...and had heard tell of my uncle skating from Littleport to Cambridge on ice by moonlight. The winters, when I was growing up in the fens of East Anglia, were not hard and I never saw the Ouse freeze. Then one cold weekend about 25 years ago when visiting my parents, I went to Welney Wash and can still remember the atmosphere charged with levity: bursts of laughter echoing through the frost, bright bobble hats and scarfs, the sounds of blades on ice...and shop keepers from our village suddenly lithe and elegant and happy. Breughel or Avercamp in motion. I witnessed it again on the ship to Antarctica as we slid into sea scattered with bergs. (see below)
Just recently, on the coast road between Weymouth and West Bay the whole of the sea had disappeared. And I immediately recognised that same communal high spirits. The sun above the mist had made magic of the familiar. Rather than driving through, cars were stopping and passengers spilling out to wonder and of course to record.
The light reflecting off that sea mist was, for me, like light reflecting off snow in the south of England. It doesn't happen very often, and when it does, I am never alone in delighting in it.
Below are a couple of watercolours made in 2005 in The Weddell Sea in Antarctica...see Antarctica page
EYPE ROUGE (October 2013) unfinished state 1 (above) was a drawing in local earths with the paper breathing through the marks. I returned to the beach with it this January, February, June and July). The 'airy' drawing of the first state is now under solid layers of Fuller's Earth along with the gritty, sandy and clay outcrops available for collecting at beach level. This year my attention was drawn by delicious iron oxide oozings (see photo below) running and dripping in gullies and sunlight moving over the pale Frome Clay. I moved closer to 'Fault Corner', changed it's scale and therefore relationship with Burton Cliffs beyond West Bay, and have introduced weather and earth density. I take images back to the landscape regularly. The shifting earths, seasons and weather prompt me to make these changes to the work: depositions and erosion of a kind.
At Eype's Mouth - looking towards Watton Cliff (West Cliff with West Bay beyond) I'm using middle Jurassic Strata as pigments- quite a humbling realisation. Reeds and grasses have established themselves on the lower slopes. Frome Clay (Fuller's Earth), a pale grey calcareous mudstone makes up the lower two thirds of the cliff. Forest marble Formation is at the top (lumps have tumbled down and its brown ferruginous blocks are scattered at the base of the cliff).
RUST caught my attention in The Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2013. In the piece below, the sculpural form has been clothed by it and ultimately it will be dissolved by it...
Ai Weiwei's Tree 2010 (tree sections and metal bolts) is now on display in the newly extended Tate Modern. Earlier on this summer I saw the sections being unpacked from large wooden boxes and set out on the floor like a giant jigsaw. I couldn't quite make out what the material was from the balcony looking down to level 1. The tree sections looked like wood with metal bolts - yet I knew that I couldn't assume that it was so - as the intention of the artist is not illusionistic. I was in no doubt of the material used in Iron Tree 2013 that I drew outside the chapel at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The whole thing- tree and bolts alike- were flaming red with rust. Pools of rust-rain water caught within its segmented structure served as pigment to inform these quick drawings. The reason why I was so familiar with the unassembled parts of Tree 2010 was that it acted as a mould for the piece I drew in Yorkshire.
This painting has just won the THG OPEN 2016 in Honiton.
The exhibition is open now until the 27th August. Open Tues - Sat from 10am to 5pm. Free admission
Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Elmfield House, Dowell Street, Honiton EX14 1LX
T: 01404 45006
The image as it stands now developed over several visits to South Beach, Studland, Isle of Purbeck.
The beach (Quartz sand) is often strewn with debris from the algal seaweed and beds of Zostera sea-grass just offshore...and I began by floating the paper at the edge of the in-coming tide line. Sand and bits of debris settled on the paper and the composition was established by the chance deposition. Over the following breezy but fine days, cumulus clouds came and went, Lesser Black Back Gulls, a few Oyster-Catchers and Red Shanks landed, rested, flew away... dog walkers, a ship anchored off Old Harry...and the next day three canoes worked their way along to Old Harry. Some of these elements are still visible- others have been buried. Grated white and cream lumps of chalk provide the particular luminosity of the work. It's a heavy painting now- but Khadi paper is tough stuff and can withstand heavy treatment. Cobalt and Scarlet Lake gouache were used but I don't remember needing any other tubes of paint.
The beach is at the junction between the Chalk (Upper Cretaceous - Campanian) and the Reading Formation (Palaeocene). There used to be clearly visible at the south corner of South Beach a gently sloping boundary between the pale creams of chalk and the red ocres of the Reading formation flowing over it. Cliff falls have now hidden it but the richly varied palette of pigments in the cliffs remain.
Included below is a gallery indicating the process, material available along the beach and at the base of the cliffs.
Charmouth: a place of hourly changes- a place where clays move from cliff to water before one's eyes. I work regularly here- using its generous supply of pigments. More than 320ft or 1,000 tons of cliff fell down a week before Christmas. I decided to begin this new year by returning there- the crowds of fossil hunters had already left by then. I took with me work made between 2000 and 2013...just to see how the changes prompted me to use them. In some cases the old 'breathes through' obviously- in others the orientation changes or a colour or form in the image finds a connection in the landscape and a re- working begins. All the new marks are placed upon a foundation made of the stuff of the same place and that feels good.
CHARMOUTH WALK 4
The island of Langnesholmen depicted in the painting above and accessible at low tide, had rock drawings (c 6200 years old) on some of its scattered boulders. These would have been just above water level when they were made. Looking closely one could see the individual percussion marks where a hard point had chipped away a tiny bit of rock. There were no explanations or please do not touch signs anywhere. I made a rubbing of one of the drawings with birch leaves and felt myself very close to the maker. My host was taught to use birch leaves as a child.
The reddish brown ocre paint in the drawing below was added because it was thought these drawings would have been painted originally. It has now been discovered that this was not the case and that the paint might damage the drawings. They are gradually being cleaned.The drawings would have been made close to the water level and the red surface of the rocks when drawn into would have produced a light line in contrast to the outer rock. The rock is slightly re crystalised grey- green sandstone and is fine grained and hard with a high quartz content. The carvings were made (by a person who held the status of leader of rituals- a shaman or head of the family) using a hard stone as a chisel and an antler or stone as a hammer. Chisel marks can be seen in the uncoloured carvings. Looking closely at the placing on the rock it was clear that the artists made use of natural crevices and strata in the rocks suggesting water and the Northern Lights. I drew the reindeer (below) using a powerful pair of binoculars to get a good look at the lone animal on the island. The beast had evaded the annual herding by the Sami who take them to higher grazing for the winter around early September.
This digital platform offers a forum for me to reflect further on what informs my material practice.