Tuesday 28 April 2009

Oil paint for the ears, spring flowers for the sorrows

THERE ARE WHITE FLOWERS growing beautifully about this rusty old wheel at the front of our truck, but I haven't had a chance to go and look at them these last weeks because I have been painting. Painting at night, painting in the days, painting in the bits in between.
I am emerging gradually from underneath an elephant of exhaustion which is the result of two manic weeks of exhibition preparation. Up in that tree I knew not of the long hours of desperately focused painting that lay ahead. I have always been a last minute artist and I think really that I work well under pressure, even though I don't like it one bit. I like best to be able to set my drifty painting pace to meander around my days as they go, but when an outside deadline looms, I fear failure above all and morph into a new creature with an iron will to finish it, no matter how leaden my eyelids or how loud my inner screams.

I had two paintings to complete before the opening and both are, I think and hope, the best things I've done. And while I have painted like a thing possessed, Tui has made me the most lovely picture frames from found wood.
Along from where our house rests its wheels is a pile of moss and timber that was once a barn. The roof has caved in completely and all around nettles and brambles grow. There by the barn-that-was lie stacks of old pallets. Weathered by time and the sky, grey and holey. Perfect for a poverty stricken artist who cannot afford expensive framers. I bought cheap clip frames to provide the glass and the backing and had mounts cut. The rest was done by Tui with glue and staples and sandpaper. Here are the magnificent rustic results in progress and in all their gallery glory!


Meanwhile springtime was passing me by; I sat bent over the table like my painted characters, moving my three-haired paintbrush over the neverending surface of wood.
These two latest works have music coming from them. If you lean close and listen, you'll hear strains of strange East-European melodies, for those are the musics that move me.
If you have not yet heard the exquisite harmony singing from Bulgaria, sung sometimes with the accompaniment of the goat-bagpipe, the gaida, I urge you to - there is nothing like it. I've recommended it before but A Harvest, A Shepherd, A Bride - Village Music of Bulgaria is a wonderful collection of songs which I think is how this painting would sound if you could for a moment swap your ears with your eyes and listen to it. Anyhow, the point is that the painting I worked on up in that tree studio became this below. I am very pleased with it, and I rarely say this. A new tiny paintbrush has led me to paint fine lines describing the shapes of faces and hands and feet with finely diluted oil paint. And these different-sized people fit happily into the odd shaped piece of wood, singing their Bulgarian harmonies, while the little fellow plays heartily on his gaida. I only managed to take one photo of this painting amid the recent chaos, but here it is... (that first word of the title means 'sing' or 'we sing' - unless any Bulgarian readers can tell me otherwise?)

пея : A Song To All Our Sorrows

And next came the final piece. With just one week to go, and the most enormous piece of wood I have ever painted on in front of me, I began work on a clock to out-tick all previous clocks... With pencil in hand I spent late nights drawing a scene of Pied-Piperishness, an old bearded one-man-band with rats nestling in his beard, and children following. It took time, and the painting gradually took shape. I had read that the story of the Pied Piper was perhaps a remnant of a history of an exodus from Hamelin to collonize parts of Eastern Europe. And this combined with ideas about Jewish music (something that has always resonated old and true in me), and the ostracization of Jews through history formed an image. The pied piper in this case has become a one man band, partly because I like the idea of a character carrying all his instruments and chattels at once, and partly because I needed the roundess of drum for the clock face. The title I took from the well known W.B Yeats poem The Stolen Child that has been sung by various folk singers, and so tied in thoughts of childhood, and the taking-away that is done by music and imagination, and that is so very important, not just in childhood. Of course there is sadness there too, as there always is I think in my work.
I took photos of this one as I went which I share with you here.

So there it is, I am pleased with my work, though I became far too exhausted to be able to 'see' it properly by the end. The night before the opening of the exhibition I was still painting... and went to bed, finally putting the battery in the back of the clock, and setting it to twenty to eleven. On waking.. it still said twenty to eleven and there followed a morning of panic, re-drilling and just a little throwing of pliers. With just half an hour to spare we arrived and hung the clock in its place on the gallery wall. There it'll be for all to see, and perhaps to buy until the 10th of May. These rather nice photos of it below were taken for the Imagine Gallery website.

Come Away O Human Child From A World More Full Of Weeping
Than You Can Understand

Now I'm off to not paint for a few days and enjoy the wonderful springing springtime...

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Tree Studio

TUCKED AWAY behind a crumble-down barn, with a logpile, a rusted wheeled farm machine and newly budding trees for neighbours we look out of our back door at rabbit-holed fields and treetops beyond and smile because we are somewhere new. Our long delayed next leg eventually took us winding up from Kent, above the busyness that ebbs out around London and into East Anglia where we are parked in a field on a farm just on the north edge of Essex. It is owned by kind Sarah and her family who offered a spot on their land, after she stumbled here on a blog wander. It is delightful to walk amongst trees again and step between stinging nettles. How lovely of Sarah to invite us to enjoy a corner of this land, and it means we will not be approached by council men while I prepare for my exhibition which is just a few towns and only two weeks away from here!

If you climb down the steps at our back door and hop down the grassy hill and beyond into the woods, at the bottom of a slope there at the edge of a lake stands a tree. Its insides are black and scaly as a devil's armpit, perhaps it was struck by lightning like is striking above us now. As I write the inky sky sends cloud-wolves howling and rain beats down on our little wheeled house.

I have begun a new painting to hang in the exhibition on a slice of wood ferreted out in a charity shop by my mum. I have been working hard, and it is great to be able to wallow in my own ideas for imagery. Normally if you were to ask me at this early stage of a piece of work what I thought of it, the most positive response you'd receive would be a tentative hmmm.., but this time I am really pleased with it! It's rather a Rima-ish sort of thing sporting as it does bent people, earthen greens and reds, a Bulgarian Gaida Bagpipe, and a touch of melancholy...

Today if you had wandered down to the blackened tree by the lake you would have found me there painting up in the tree house that was started a few years ago by Sarah's boy. I scrambled up and sat high and hidden, looking out over the water as a lone swan floated past and back again giving me sideways glances. I sat there until the evening began and goosebumps came and Tui brought me red wine and pickled onions.

These next few weeks will be busy with preparing of the exhibition which will take place at the Imagine Gallery in Long Melford, Suffolk. You can see I have put the advert for A Gathering over there on the right. You might recognise a certain crow of mine. It runs from 26th April until 10th May. The exhibition will include five other artists and I must say what a delightfully enthusiastic gallery curator John Foley is. Galleries have never brought me much success in the past; instead I think the more hand made immediate way of selling work has so far served me well, and perhaps I went to the wrong sorts of galleries. But this time I will be exhibiting amongst some other wonderful earth-flavoured work and the whole thing is being put together by someone who is genuinely delighted by what I do, which is both humbling and encouraging. I have the endlessly talented illustrator and tale-teller Jackie Morris to thank for connecting us.
So.. on with frantic framing and painting of pictures, and in between, explorations of this greening corner of England which is our home for these next few weeks...

PS - do click on that last photo to enlarge.. I am in the tree!!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

A house on your back

THIS MAN CARRIES his house on his back in a drawing just completed by me for a nice lady* who asked me to make her a drawing for her house-builder husband. She had seen my Goods & Chattels Man and asked for a little drawing in a similar vein but with a house on his back and a nod to the corrugated iron roofs of Australia where they live.
It is also a rather apt illustration for our predicament right now. We feel like we might have to hoick our house onto our backs and walk!

Regarding our recent and ongoing engine troubles all I can say is GrRrRrRrRrRhHhH!!!
The problem that we went to that garage with in the first place all that time ago is still not fixed, despite all the money we paid them and the weeks we spent parked there. We are very frustrated indeed!

Our intention was to leave for East Anglia this week but alas we are back in the park and ride! There have been days peering under the engine hood, and thinking 'aha we've found the cause', ordering a new part, collecting it from the post office, fitting it and crossing fingers, starting the engine and driving down the A2 a bit to see, only to be greeted with momentous chugging at junctions, revving of its own accord and billows of exhaust smoke down the road. We are pretty sure based on advice from various quarters that all this is being caused by air getting into the fuel somehow... so we have looked for cracks and loose nuts and bolts until blue in the face. Finally yesterday we were put in touch with a knowledgeable man who trained on TKs and can recite the serial numbers to you over the phone. He reckons it's the fuel pump playing up... but alas cannot work on it as the truck won't fit in his yard. So, he recommended another place... which it turns out is just down the road from here and on a farm! And that is where we will head in a bit when I have finished moaning on here. Gawd knows if it'll be good news, we are starting to despair a bit and not trust people. The knowledgeable man made a knowing noise when Tui mentioned the garage in Faversham where we had been and said "..well my mother said if you have no good thing to say about someone then don't say anything!" It seems we were lead to a nest of cowboys, and it is such a shame. We probably never needed six brand new injectors fitting at all. People can so often disappoint you, and we are even more at the mercy of garages as this is our home.

Mechanical troubles are the real downside of living on wheels. It is so much more important for things to run smoothly and the freedom to move vanishes in an instant when things go wrong, leaving you wherever you happen to be. As it goes the park and ride is a sort of sanctuary in this kind of situation, it's quite alright to be parked here for lengths of time, and we are close to town to frantically sell pictures in order to pay for the work!

All the while we have been in this loop of trying-to-get-to-the-bottom-of-it-and-then-not, I have struggled to work and we have sold some pictures. Tui even turned the carpark into a carpentry workshop for a day or two whilst he made a new cupboard for our crawl-through. The space between cab and house had become a sort of pile of vegetables and cartons of juice and milk and bags of salad, and butter (it was cooler you see), so we thought why not put all that into a cupboard... and there's the lovely result above. Tui can be seen here from my desk window mid saw, and his activities even brought the carpark attendant over as he'd had a call from the central CCTV monitors telling him "there's some bloke in the carpark making a cupboard!"
The handles (which I think look slightly like poached eggs) are my contribution to the new creation and are made from a piece of Yew that we found back in the orchard days before any chugging was even on the horizon.

I leave you with a familiar scene of recent days... our house pulled in on a roadside somewhere with the engine hood up, spanners strewn across the pavement, Tui underneath cursing, and kind folk stopping to cough through our exhaust smoke and ask if they can help.
Will we be wandering again next week? Oh I do hope so...

*edited for secrecy :)

I would like to report that following this rather glum post we chugged off to the garage-on-the-farm and had our faith in humanity restored. The kind fellows at Injection Development took time and care and diagnosed the problem straight away. It was just a small heater plug part malfunctioning that was letting unburnt diesel through the system. Our relief is tangible... and they shook their heads at the rogues in Faversham, quite incredulous at how much they had charged for not fixing it! It is so nice to have someone who knows an engine inside out really look and work it all out. We needn't have had all this trouble if we had been there in the first place. But now we know, and if ever anyone else is near Canterbury with diesel problems, I can't recommend them highly enough. And the setting is so much more lovely than that dreadful industrial estate.
Rightyho, well I shall return soon with more cheery tales of travelling again!