The Trembling Brink of Transformation?… a report on my residency by John Maclean, owner of Ionaartresidencies….
Kate Walters left today having completed her four week residency at Iona Hostel. The good news is that she is coming back in January for another month or so. Yesterday we held an open studio in the Hostel so that islanders and visitors to Iona could see what Kate has been up to. An afternoon sun warmed the common-room in the hostel and a good crowd of people came to meet and talk with Kate and to enjoy a glass of wine. Kate introduced her work and responded to an interesting range of questions. In keeping with her work the mood in the room was reflective and thoughtful. You could sense that people felt an affinity with her work.
Kate is a listener. She listens to her psyche and dreams and an to altogether more ancient response to the land than that which we currently know; what Thomas Carlyle described as ‘ the ancient dialect’. Her work is in part an exploration of this dialect. It explores place through archetype, symbol, the animal world and the older religions. This is home territory for Kate -she is quite comfortable in the company of the ‘Sheela’s (the Sheela na gigs).
Kate’s work isn’t easy in the sense that it neither makes assertions nor statements. It seems to be deliberately un-emphatic. The effect is to unsettle, to make us alert and create a pause. We find ourselves listening. The image that comes to me of her work is of that moment, in the stillness, when you hear a faint and tremulous bird call. You ask yourself if you even heard it (was it your imaginings?) and are silent and poised, listening for it again. You are completely present. In a review of her work art critic Laura Gascoigne gets it dead on when she says ‘It is this sense of trembling on the brink of transformation that lends Kate’s shadowy forms psychological substance’.
I love this particular piece. There is something haunting, archaic and incredibly tender about it. I also like text that guides our responses and opens possibilities. Sitting pondering it I realise that this figure sums up, for me, much that is precious and true of Iona. Kate has gone to the heart of the matter.
John Maclean, Lagandorain, Iona.
The two posts below were first published on the Iona Art Residencies blog post: ionaartresidencies.wordpress.com
I first came to Iona when I was aged 18, to take photographs for my ‘A’ level photography course… a long time ago. Then I came here again, nursing a broken heart, in my thirties, with my young son who was then aged about 5. I was especially entranced by the abundant vegetables growing beside the Abbey, and I was grateful to a generous person attached to the Abbey who suggested we help ourselves to the salads growing there.
My last visit was around five years ago when my husband and I camped at Fidden Farm on Mull, and every day we crossed to Iona, and walked around, sat on the beaches; generally falling in love with the magic here all over again. I am always inspired by wild places. Something in me responds to the sense of them being completely themselves, raw, fine and pure. There is a quality of soar-i-ness which my heart enjoys when I come to these wild places, whether in Italy or Cornwall, Dartmoor or Iona.
When I saw the residency opportunity I did not hesitate to apply. I already knew about the particular quality of beauty which Iona embodies, so I knew what to expect – up to a point.
I arrived on a beautiful sunny day from two days’ drawing at Glasgow School of Art, working with staff and students making monotypes employing the technique called ‘becoming the hollow bone’. I was loaded with luggage and materials, so I was relieved to see John and his partner Rachel waiting to greet me. I was made very welcome, and introduced to many islanders as the resident artist, which felt such a privilege.
I arrived carrying a deep tiredness and I knew that part of my reason for wanting to come here was to be restored in myself. I was delighted when John showed me the large byre-studio, and the beautiful and charming bothy where I would sleep (I’ve managed a week in there but now need two nights in the hostel to prepare me for my weekend trip to London… where I’m going to be resident artist at the National Open Art competition show at the Royal College of Art…@noac). My favourite time in the Bothy is early morning; lying in bed watching the light through the curtains gain in strength…. then opening the door to be greeted by birdsong, hesitant and fine; the smell of water in peat, and the green scent of willow.
I’ve been working long days in the studio, making a series of drawings on pages which I’ve taken from an old copy of the Bhagavad Gita, The Song Divine, and which I’d already prepared with gesso.
I’m working into them in my usual intuitive way (with watercolours and inks) , responding to the strong spirit of place, and how I feel/experience it in a deep way in my body. I have been for walks on the magnetic and extraordinarily beautiful North beach (Traigh An T-Suidhe ) near John’s croft, and I’ve tuned into the subtle energetic life there. Yesterday I found a mighty tower of green serpentine; I held it in my hands, it was an object of such power and beauty!
My dreams have become more intense and I’ve been able to see clearly and directly how they are illuminating my practice.
It’s been great meeting guests and staff working here, and spending evenings in the warm and comfortable kitchen/living room. There are some very interesting and varied books in there too. I loved Ice Bears and Kotick by Peter Webb, and I found these special lines at the close of the book, written by an Inuit:
And yet there is only
One great thing
To see in huts and on journeys
The day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.
Last night was especially windy, with a storm lashing the island. I had started a new book: The Curious Earth… and I was laughing so loudly at the description of a man watching his false teeth fly out if his mouth, and away into the night … as he stood in a gale on a ship…. that my laughter drowned out the sound of the gales buffeting the iron-clad walls.
As a gardener back in Cornwall I am delighted by the gardens and flowers on Iona. Outside The Low Door (excellent for fine foods and books on cooking) there are two large buckets producing towers of most deliciously scented sweet peas even at the end of October. Iona is a place of startling surprises like these flowers, and the diminutive Post Office beside the beach – which surprisingly sells herbal remedies too. I find that being here, being fully awake and absorbing everything with my heart completely open, fuels my work and is resulting in a rich cross-fertilisation.
Having longer periods of time to focus on my work uninterrupted has proved a great boon for me, and I will hope to continue this routine when I am back home in Cornwall.
After my short time in London I will return ready to immerse myself at an even deeper level with my work, when I hope to make some larger pieces in watercolour and oil. Next blog in ten days or so!
firstname.lastname@example.org @katehorse (twitter)
Images and text copyright Kate Walters 2015
Kate Walters blog part two, Iona, November 2015
A starling in the byre, and sunshine. My dog gazes upwards, somewhat anxiously. I don’t know how the bird found her way in here. This morning the sounds were of thick water and a thin delicate birdsong. The path sucked at my boots, the grasses too sodden to sing in this morning’s winds. The light was bright after a night of the bothy imitating a boat, with the bed shaking and quivering like a trapped animal.
I see the breast of the bird, it is pale from beneath, so she blends with the sky when she flies. I open the door, she flies down from the rafters and out through the doorway in an arc of relief and triumph.
In the days I’ve been here I’ve kept a sketchbook of drawings, a still anchor amongst the swirl of works I’ve been making. The drawings, the monotypes, the notes and the watercolours have created a conversation between themselves, and I’ve been supported by the fusion, the generation which has occurred.
When I first arrived and the weather was kind and warm, I wanted to immerse myself in the water, feel the cleansing power of diamonds suspended in and around my body. I made drawings about this communion of skin, flesh, and water. A body crouching, or bent double as if horse-borne, foot placed on some subtle shore, hands stroking a watery surface in prayer.
Reflected in the crystalline water have been extraordinary clouds. I’ve spent time photographing them, and feeling the beings which dwell in them momentarily. Related to this, I’ve also made a drawing which recalls a vision I had many years ago which showed me how a soul can evolve: I saw one face dissolving into another, going back through time, face upon face each melding into one another, each more beautiful than the last, until a holy face came into clear view.
I’ve also been considering boundaries: of watery bodies, of soul bodies, of soul family members recognising one another, and of the energy which such dynamics can fire.
A trip to Staffa to see the caves led me to think once again about the feminine body, the giantess who holds; and of the correspondence with our own bodies, with all their little fjords, rivers, caves, and arches. I closed my eyes and followed the free movement of my left hands, trusting in what it would show me. This as I sat in the cave, awed by the integrity of its presence.
A guest in the hostel spoke to me about Julian of Norwich and her visions, or ‘Showings’ as they are called. I will seek these out on my return to Cornwall.
I wanted more and more to meet Water, to have her hold me. A drawing of this impulse became a figure with a matrix, and a bird around her, holding her. This drawing developed into a series ‘And I am the bird’s egg, she my nest..’
..which grew into a series about the ‘Bird with Womb to give my Consciousness…’
The dreams which came as I slept here informed the studio work and my insights about the work which came. My father who died some years ago appeared in a dream, looking younger then I ever remember him, and somehow golden. The perfume of this dream infused a piece about a happy Buddha figure with a cape of breasts.
John MacLean has lent me a book about Sheela-na-gig and as I read I see through my drawings and notes how I have anticipated and tuned into the spirit of this place in a very clear and strong way.
As my last week here begins, I awake feeling that I will just about be able to bear the leave-taking of this place, and the return to my other life.
I have my first day off, and head of towards St Columba’s Bay in the dazzling November sunshine. It’s a long walk past the jetty towards the machair and the West beaches. Wet and rocky we climb to high lakes of dark water before descending to green openness, cattle, and sheep. The round pebbles invite searching. I become as someone gathering fruit or jewels and I think to myself that you would never see sheep, or dogs, on their hands and knees turning over stones searching for that special bright one. I leave with heavier pockets. I had promised to send a couple of serpentine pieces to people who will never make this trip.
I had a strong desire to re-visit a place I last experienced in my thirties. It is the Hill of the Angels. I set off up a barely discernable rocky path over bogs and drops and tiny animal tracks through heather. Following my nose I head north-east until the great swelling mounds of dried heather, a sprawling bonsai forest, invite me to rest once again. When I lay upon this springy heather bed some twenty years ago up on this high place I thought this was the closest I could ever come to Heaven in this life. So I lay myself down again and gave thanks for the return to this most glorious of holy hills.And the sky was blue, the sun warm.
Inner work reflecting the drawings I’ve made is coming into clearer focus for me; as are the possible outcomes I see this work leading towards – a book, a show of works in a public space, and I hope, all being well, a return to this wonderful place to re-establish the connection I feel here, the sense of being in a place where I experience the sensation of being held in a harbour which fits me, holds me perfectly at ease, at rest.
The days here seem to move through their hours more quickly than anywhere I’ve ever been. As my last week passes I am working with oils, trying to find their voice. The rain came in again today so Marc kindly lit the stove. The studio-byre was immediately brightened and warmed. I sat on the rocking chair with my dog, cuddled her, wished that time would slow a little.
A little later Luke appeared with a plate of freshly made bread and butter. So simple, so kind, and so delicious. Lysanne has said that as tomorrow is her last day she will be making a last night brownie. It has been such a joy to come into the kitchen/dining room to find a plate of shortbread, ginger bread or brownies with a note on the top -‘please help yourself’.
At home I cook every night but here cooking has not been on my radar at all…so it has been a real treat to receive these expressions of generosity. The last hostel I stayed in was in Venice, and there was a tiny shared dining room without cooking facilities. This hostel has been the warmest, cleanest, friendliest place I could imagine and I have been so very happy staying here.
Blog notes, third blog…written at home, reflecting on time on Iona, drawings, my notes, my heart flung back up there….
The two feathers in my notebook recall a walk, a day in a soft grey-green light field muted by violet, by pink, by the breath of birds, by absence, by the curve of the sea’s arm against my shoulders. There is a pulse in my praying here. And one speaks in the body.
There is the bruised face, the open face, the face which opens, reaching skywards. The drawing shows me.
The praying figure waiting beneath the green lights at night, just inside the Abbey doors, to welcome.
I draw fire, or trees, or plants beneath his feet.
The bright orb which arrives, supported by prayers or openings regards me patiently. I bend on all my knees, I see my double in this place, pink bands surround us.
I return from London: first drawing, a bird with outstretched wings, I write: “When bird flies through my heart the emptiness is gathered up.”
I dream of holding horse’s hooves in my hands. They are broken, split. I paint them and bind them, make them bright and full of colour. I draw the dream; see that I am the horse, that I am binding my hands, restoring them.
Another drawing recalling my need to be in the sea, to breathe it, to feel it swirl about me; now it is the womb which radiates, the motion borrowed from the waves gives my womb her power. Little prayers come and rest upon my outstretched arms. Like the birds in the byre they arrive with joy and song, swooping and bright.
On my last night there I had two very bright dreams. One was of a Saint, probably Saint Columba, standing very still, full of poise and certainty and stillness; he was holding a staff. And the other was of a column of bright rainbow light moving between Iona and the sky, from a slightly raised position, a small hill. I haven’t yet made any work from any of the hills, so this will be part of my next body of work. The Hill of Tongues, Dun I and the Hill of the Angels.
I enjoyed very much the museum at the Abbey. There is a powerful atmosphere surrounding all the crosses, and it was good to learn more about the Book of Kells, which was probably made and completed on Iona. Discovering this has made me want to learn about this very beautiful book, and that will also be part of my next visit to the island.
Work made during my last week of the residency revolved around kneeling, humility, the need to focus and have clarity; awareness of one’s double, and the vision which accompanies that knowing.
The sound of the wind in the grasses in the morning when I open the door; the circling of goldfinches, the scattering of rabbits as I walk; a bee in my ear, the sparrows in the byre where I work; the pink rose growing there and the falling of her petals; the mice at night leaving their traces on my drawings; the moon, the sun’s afternoon hallelujah into the sea a cloak of violet swooping down.
I am very grateful to John MacLean for providing this wonderful haven and glorious opportunity; and to Marc, Lysanne, Emily and Luke for good company and great cooking (of cakes and bread!); to Mike of Iona Craft Shop for his friendliness and support; to Noor for her kindness and understanding; to Tanya for lending me her lap-top, and to Andrew for all his help with the photographs. I return to Cornwall full of gifts and joy, so happy having made new friends.