Tuesday 26 March 2013

Small Visitations from a Winter-Dusted Equinox

A BLUE BRIGHT COLD DAWN blew in the other day. It was a surprise amid these endless fogged and drenched grey days of unspring. Chicklets under our eaves, gambolling lambs and dogged primroses are chirping out the fact of spring, their joys flitting over the Equinox and on through white-blanketed March, whilst we huddle indoors, disbelieving the daffodils and wondering what happened to the sun. 

This blue bright morning was beautiful though, and all etched in frost. Macha and I climbed the hill behind our house where you can see all across the valley of villages and out beyond onto Dartmoor. A mist crept in, silent and low, hanging between the hills and whispering over the roofs of the just-waking houses.

Frozen mornings trap beauty in a certain thrilling way. The ochres and browns of winter's trees and hedges hummed in patchworks around the shadow blues of iced fields. 

As the morning rose, the light pinked the far-off moors before it reached us.

There's a magnificent old sentinel pine tree on the hill behind our house, a homing land mark for getting lost on long rambles over the fields, and a memory-keeper for all that happens in the valleys below.

Macha and I stepped quietly through the dawning, smelling new things from the night, and looking down into the day shining crisply at our feet.

Other days have brought snows, which have dusted the toes of birches, the roofs of shacks and weighed heavy on the confused petals of spring.

On the rare days we have sun, it plays a game of chase with the frost across the thatched roof of our cottage, until the colder of them wins at the end of the day anyway.

There have been beautiful visitations at unexpected moments too. I encountered the swoop of a tawny owl one night as I drove home along a dark lane. It landed on a branch overhanging the road, and so I stopped and turned off the engine to watch it. It crouched there with something in its claws looking me directly in the eye. Then it flew off into the night, dropping the whateveritwas onto the road. I peered and noticed it moving. So I got out of the van and went over to find a baby rabbit, screaming, but apparently unhurt. I picked it up and took it home in my lap, where it crouched, the terrible screaming subsiding eventually. Once home, it almost met its end again after leaping from my lap and running to the darkest corner of the room where Macha leapt after it. Deciding that I wasn't going to be able to raise this little one myself, I took it outside in the dark to find a rabbit hole. It was small, and probably too young to survive alone. I don't know whether rabbits adopt young, but this one had already been flown far from its home, so I had to try. It sat still on my open palm for a while, sniffing the air. Then - hop, hop, hop - it bounced down the rabbit hole I'd found for it, and out of my story.

Another night brought a flitting-flapping floor-bound moth to the corner of my eye. It also nearly ended up as a dog-snack, but I held it for a while, its wings so light green and papery, they were almost an entirely new colour. I had a chance to remember this one with my camera before I released it to a night time of moon and owl silence.

The letterbox has also brought wonders from other shores, whilst we stay in by the fire as the winter refuses to withdraw her talons.
These beautiful hand-spun, hand-knitted sock masterpieces were knitted by Teleri Gray in Germany in return for some of my prints. I am so delighted by their intricacy and perfect fit, I almost can't bear to wear them and prematurely destroy the heels with my chicken feet! 

photo © Sylvia Linsteadt
And last but most surely not least, a wonder-tale through the mail, written by my amazingly talented word-magician friend Sylvia Linsteadt. This is part one of the Gray Fox Epistles, a fairytale-by-post project that she has created, and which you can sign up for too, at her blog. This first story is a retelling of the Celtic tale, The Children of Lir, and my goodness is it an artful and beautifully-wrought thing! Sylvia makes the land speak across centuries, and conjures a world so familiar to me, that it is all the more strange for it. 
The envelope arrived, all wrapped in wonder and the footprints of deer, and tucked inside were wild clover leaves, redwood needles and a single wild jackrabbit hair. Sylvia has magic in her quill, and I urge you all, each and every one, to sign up for her next story which will be a unique retelling of the Russian tale, Tsarevna Frog. One fine and not too distant day, our arts will share pages, but for that you shall have to wait...

The cold nights are still woodstove firelit and damp window-paned, and our days have been filled with the little plans of coming months. I have painted and drawn and begun preparing a new studio space which must be reached through a trapdoor (of that more anon), and Tom is deep in the gruelling last months of acupuncture studies. The truck awaits our dreams and hammers and nails still, as it crouches under its tarpaulin blanket until clearer skies come this way. Mythic midsummer exhibitions are in the cauldron. My ideas, as ever, tramp and stamp like a herd of snorting wild horses held at the end of a bunch of long tethers in my hand as the year marches on happily and strangely.

Friday 15 March 2013

From the Mourning of the World

The final record cover artwork  - this image will wrap the gatefold sleeve front and back 
~ please click for a larger view
THE WOMAN OF THE EARTH's back bends under the dark weight of tarmac and concrete, industrial civilisation catches in its global communications net the last wild creatures, and poisoned skies choke the leaves from the last trees withstanding. 
A wind blows through those last branches and through the antlers of a fleeing deer, through the hair of the Woman of the Earth, and scatters old memories of things that once lived: twigs and bird bones, seed pods and bees wings, dead leaves and fish skeletons and thistledown. 
The Woman of the Earth weeps. Her sorrow for The Dying is heavier than we can know. Into her garment are stitched the ghosts of extinct species. 
But from her tears grows music: music to wail and sing out and bow and strum and beat out the thrum of our griefs. And from the music grow green leaves, spiralling their new life from the alchemy of tears.

And so goes the tale of my latest painting. This is to be a record cover, commissioned by the folks at The Dark Mountain Project (whom I have painted for before) - a global network of writers, artists and thinkers who aim to challenge the stories our civilisation tells about itself, and produce honest art and novel thinking for a culture in trouble and a world heading for the buffers.
They are bringing out a compilation record of music born of this thinking, and encasing it in a beautiful limited edition vinyl LP, with a gatefold sleeve adorned with my artwork. 

My initial sketch for the record cover design

The title From the Mourning of the World was given to me by Marmaduke Dando - the record's curator, and then I was left pretty much to my own devices to respond to the idea in my own way.

You mightn't be surprised that I was inspired by the melancholy in the title and theme. Even my watercolour was weeping.

Slowly the painting evolved. It was large - I painted at record cover actual size.

As the ghosts of lost creatures whispered blue and green through the paint to me, I even started to see spirits in the paint palette, waiting wordlessly for me to tell their tale.

The image grew, in soft watery colours against the inky black of the oppressive city.

Lastly, once all the colour was there, I carved out the edges in pencil, put in the veins of insect wings, and the furrows on the brow, marked out the fingernails and bird bones, the lettering and fiddle strings, antlers and tresses and long falling tears.

And then it was done.

The record will be made once enough funds have been raised. There'll be a limited edition of just 500 of these unique and beautiful vinyl creations, so hurry along here to the fundraising page and pre-order yourself a copy! I'm particularly excited about the tracks from Jon Boden and Chris Wood and Julian Gaskell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, but listening to the tempting snippets on this little introductory video promises a veritable feast for wondering ears and uncivilised souls.