FIRST FROST after weeks of wet. And the crystal grass is pinking with the sun-up. It is beautiful and it is cold and I jump back in to light the morning fire. Our truck has moved again, though only a few feet this time. Now we are tucked behind the early cock-a-doodling chicken enclosure, protected from winter winds and our back door faces east to greet this:
Our windows see new things now, different branches from before and the sunrise shoots right through the windscreen. The round bedroom window faces west now and shows us the setting sun, though sunset is far earlier than bedtime!
Nights are noticeably long - endless dark hours seem darker when your evenings are lit by lamplight. If you wander out in the field after dark, the crisp moon nights are clear and cold and lit just enough to see where to put your feet. The grass is wet and there are sounds of roosting birds rearranging themselves in the hedgerow, a knotted layer of blackness in the black. When the moon is up behind the bare night tree bones all you can see of our house are a few orange lantern spots in the distance.
In these last few weeks I have been to see my family again. In London we saw some wonderful works of art. The Sacred Made Real exhibition at the National Gallery is a rare and unique opportunity to see seventeenth century Spanish devotional painted woodcarvings of exquisite quality. Many of them are lifesize and imposing in their realism, and yet somehow more than real. There is blood and bruising, ivory teeth, glass eyes and horn fingernails. This figure of the dead Christ is by Gregorio Fernández:
These figures are still in use today in religious processions in Spain, they are kissed and revered.
The photos can in no way portray the powerful presence of this beautiful work.
We also went to an art and antiques fair, and saw (amongst all the nasty chintz and china and polished veneer) a stall of Russian icons. Hanging all together like this they were beautiful. A patchwork of wonderful painting. And, I noticed, all in my favourite ochre-red-olive Rima-palette.
All together these artworks were a triumph of painting on wood. But the Spanish carvings and the Russian icons also had in common that element of devotion to the object itself in some way. I think that artists over the centuries who have made with their hands and their souls objects that are beautiful, are intercessors, portrayers of the inexplicable wonder of life or the divine or whatever you choose to call it. And in seeing these beautiful objects, these sights that delight the eye, some transformation takes place within you, because of what the artist was feeling whilst creating. Often I am asked to explain my paintings, which seems to me a slightly ridiculous request. As a visual expression, a work of art should need no explanation in another medium (words) I think. Of course it is interesting to learn of the stories behind paintings, but for a work of art to be utterly dead to you until you read an essay explaining the underlying idea, is failure.
Philosopher Roger Scruton delved into this further the other day, in his excellent programme Why Beauty Matters. It is about time someone pointed out that the Emperor that is conceptual art has no clothes on.
I returned to Devon on train tracks flanked on either side by lakes that were once farms. All over England the rain has fallen and fallen and rivers have burst their banks. Luckily we are parked on top of a hill, but the river Teign which we must cross to walk to town is certainly full and ferocious. The clouds have been passing over and over, rain storms then a brief sunny respite, then rain again. Everywhere is wet and constant rivulets run down all the lanes' gutters.
The sunlit interludes make the roads and the hedges sparkle, and birds busy themselves before winter. But there is always a leaden cloud in inky sky bringing up the rear.
While I was away, Tui had been making beautiful cupboards again. This delightful thing is a shelf for all those bits of paper that you write things on and put down somewhere! And it's for books that are left on corners and road maps and leaflets and thesauruses (thesauri?). It is made from an old piece of wood that was something else, and the broken paint surface makes it look like an antique piece of folk art I think. Here it is by day:
And perhaps you can spot it here below by night, amid the glow of an amber evening. An evening for heating bath water on the fire, for crocheting next to a candle, and for reading books with a horlicks.
I have been painting snowy paintings for winter, which I shall show you soon. Meantime, I am selling pictures at the Chagford ChristMART tomorrow, Saturday 5th December in the Jubilee Hall from 9am - 1pm. I shall be in excellent artistic company, and there'll be mulled wine too.
May your evenings be warm and lanternlit, and all England's puddles freeze in the December sun.