Two weeks ago on holiday in Italy we walked to a tiny, ancient hermitage perched on top of an enormous rocky outcrop, about 25 km north of Sansepolcro. It had begun life as a Benedictine monastery before the Franciscans took over the care of the place. Twice we walked up steep dry rocky paths and on the second day, after waiting for an hour in a pocket of shade, the care-taker arrived, two heavy bags of figs in his hands. I was a little disappointed that Chiara, the caretaker who we had read about, and who had lived there before with her legions of goats, was nowhere to be seen. The tiny cemetery had three fresh well-tended graves.
Entering the Eremo was like crossing the threshold of a magical land, or a tardis of some sort. The courtyard was beautiful, with an enormous clock, an ancient well, and the saying ‘pray and work’ high upon the wall. The chapel felt as if the air was concentrated with prayer, coolness and silence. You would never imagine you were on high ground surrounded by eagles and precipitous ledges. We stayed a while in the sacred atmosphere. As we were leaving we read a clipping about the death of Chiara, two years previously. There were many pictures of her with her goats; in most of the pictures they appeared to be climbing her legs, or gazing with love into her eyes.
We paid our respects at her grave, and beside the cross was a photograph of Chiara with a black goat, it’s face pressed against hers.
By chance, in my studio yesterday, I picked up an old notebook of mine, from 12 years ago. I read it last night and this morning, and I have been struck by the many references to animals and the work I am doing now – or rather, which is emerging, being manifested now.
I am reminded of the animal quilt I sewed, with little animals hanging from it as if on little umbilical cords. I thought at the time that my work was like little children hanging from the walls. My work has matured since then, is more autonomous, less raw, more resolved.
In my old drawings I see horses/animals with legs made of leafy plants; they were never developed then, but they are now.
– and this paragraph: ‘Art is like gardening. You have to learn to wait for flowers to reveal themselves. and you have to prune, to mulch, to clear away, and to leave alone sometimes. Especially with trees.’ I don’t know whether this is a quotation I borrowed or not, but it is amazingly apposite for my thinking now.
I was reading about Genghis Khan… the OVA, or monuments on the tops of hills with poles on them holding horse’s skulls – places of pilgrimage (but didn’t I also read those warriors slaughtered their horses mercilessly).
Twelve years ago I felt I was wearing a bridle, with blinkers on, with flowers on the inside of the blinkers – maybe I should make this bridle now?
I loved the writing of Rumi then too: he wrote, ‘Art is the salve that will heal our heal our eyes’.
The Juliet Gomperts Trust are generously funding the materials and frames for the watercolours which I’ll be showing at Newlyn. This is making an enormous difference to my working life as it means I don’t have that financial worry hanging over me. I am so grateful.
The studio work has been going well; I have been working with watercolour and gum arabic on gesso-primed linen. Discovering new things about support through animal protection. Three nights ago I dreamed that my beloved dog gave me her beautiful skin to help me. In the dream I knew she was dead and in the Earth, yet she was also with me in the dream, and not dead. The skin she offered me was not bodily, but energetic, subtle. I have been working intensely on the quality of the gazes between species. Turning blood to milk takes a long time, as Rumi said.
Found a great book in Oxfam, St. Ives, some months ago. Finally had time to have a proper look. It’s called Himalayan Art, by Madanjeet Singh. There are some wonderful little paintings depicting humans and animals. And some interesting dream accounts and stories. …”According to this story, Gautama’s mother Maya Devi dreamt of a white elephant entering her body from the right side…according to the dream interpreters ‘the child of her womb will assuredly be a holy child and grow up to achieve perfect wisdom’.”
“Tsahna was a lazy individual who was disowned by society because he was fond of sleeping… he lived in a cemetery, and at last he met a Yogi, who told him to ”imagine that you draw all the phenomenal objects into your spiritual self, then meditating on an ocean, perceive that your awareness floats on the water like a duck’….”
“He also taught Godhava to meditate at every dawn by concentrating on the songs of the birds and identifying himself with them.”
“Kukuripa was a Brahman who became a Yogi. Once when he was on his way to Lumbini, he found a stray puppy and took care of it for before 12 years before he went to Heaven. The gods entertained Kukuripa lavishly but he was unhappy without his pet. So he came back to earth and, as soon as he touched the dog, she was transformed into an angel. She then taught him the Tantras of Prajna (knowledge) and Upaya (method) and thus both achieved salvation.”
I was working today on a piece with a deer and disembodied wings. A tree is a companion; above, an animal-bellied budding-breasted cocoon is appearing. I think there is a story in there but I don’t know what it is yet.
I heard today that my show ‘The Secret Worth A Thousand’ will open on Friday December 7th, not the 30th of November. We will install the show during the last week of November so the work will be available to view from Tuesday December 4th.
I worked this morning on tiny piece with a figure and a horse, a kind of energetic mesh connecting them.
Dreamed of my special dog last night, she was asleep at the bottom of a pool, curled up; there was a sense of distance between us.
A piece with winged beings, woman-like and deer-like, worried me so I turned it on its side and another face appeared, a green woman, in the mesh of the flight feathers. The green woman has gone now, two days later, but I am still not sure about this one. I feel the two aspects need to be contained in the same body somehow. I will work on it tomorrow.
This afternoon in the garden I potted on coriander seedlings, planted out mange tout seedlings, picked the last of this crop of broad beans and pulled up the old stringy plants. Their string ties holding them to bamboo were turned into complete knotty cats’ cradles by the sparrows who had fancied the string as nest material. They had routinely taken all our string garden ties so that Andrew’s wonderful pea support actually lost its top tier and had to be re-done.
I have put two dishes full of water on the large table in the garden where we eat. The female sparrows come to drink when we are sitting there eating or reading the paper. Last evening a racing pigeon came and drank her fill as we sat inches away from her. She was very beautiful.
In the studio this morning I worked on a piece about composite humans/animals. Together they form an arch, with a view through to a landscape suggested. Visiting the V&A a few months ago to research Indian miniature painting I saw exquisite little watercolours and gouaches. Sacred cows supported the cosmos on the tips of their horns.
Began a very small piece where a figure is lying on the back of a horse. A wash of water down the material ground immediately suggested a figure, and beneath her a very strong horse. I like working small and making very concentrated, powerful images with the minimum of means and scale. I like to find the most stripped down essential part of an impulse, gesture or relationship and I work hard to pare away anything superfluous. I don’t always succeed!
Welcome to my new blog about my work preparing for my show ‘The Secret Worth A Thousand’ at Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall. The Opening is on November 30th, and it will run until February 9th 2013.
The title, ‘The Secret Worth A Thousand’, refers to what Goethe believed we could gain from entering into a conversation with Nature. In my work I seek to become quiet in order to hear what Nature has to tell me. I work with watercolour in an unorthodox way which I have developed myself; I also work with digital photography, taking photos of the plants, flowers, birds and insects in our small but vibrant garden.
The phrase ‘spanning the material field’ refers to a recent work in which I appear to be lifting my special dog skywards. I see that I have drawn/painted myself with arms outstretched, fingertips almost touching the edges of the material darkness – the opaque matter, our physically manifested bodies, the span of our (human) knowledge.
Responding to the lessons animals have to teach us is part of my work. Last week I was working in another garden. As I prepared to gaze with the poppies a newly fledged dunnock flew towards me and jauntily, gaily, she sat on an iron hoop a couple of feet away to regard me. I kept very still, hardly daring to breathe, amazed at this special and unexpected encounter. She came and sat right next to me on the stone bench. I stopped breathing and absorbed the magical nature of this feeling, alone and yet finding myself with a new and ariel companion.