Before the Plumber

5am mid February, 1.25 hours from the Canadian-US border. Early early pre-dawn sky looks like a dull ultramarine red, slightly warmer and washed out along the eastern horizon. At the corresponding time in the evening – post sunset, the sky is deep intense indigo, flecked with the one or two stars strong enough to shine through the light and air polluted atmosphere. Three hours north of here is a window that looks onto the eastern sky resplendent with a firmament as old as time.

We’ll be testing the new fire alarm today and tomorrow. An amazing opportunity to showcase your work! $25 for each piece entered, online exhibition begins in a month. I can tell none of you are healers. Shall I drive to California? Scotland calls still; Skara Brae in spring 2022, then perhaps another space in the highlands for a month – I’d like to see the part that is being reforested. Our ancestors require us to heal the trauma they could not, which is partly why things can feel heavy at times. Lockdown is lifted but we’re still in the red zone, mutated virus is here.

I pick things up, unaware, as I suspect most people do. Visible things like dust, or the hair of a dog on a black coat, but also emotional things, psychological. As though we walk every day through a field of unclaimed, un anchored emotions and gather them like seeds on our clothes. Ah, burrs, drat. Which we then pull off and leave on the ground. They become compost – or if the conditions are right, put down roots in the spring. What happens with the unclaimed emotions we pick up I wonder. Washed off in the shower and down the drain.

Sam the Plumber looks like a tall, bookish PhD student, soft spoken and gentle. I suspect he has a quirky nervous half-smile, though I’ll never know because it’s hidden behind his blue and white printed mask. The bathroom is small and so he will need to move the toilet to get to the tub drain he’s been hired to fix. It’s just what it is, he says.

I leave him to it and go to work in my studio – the first day since lockdown kept us home again almost a month ago. Why do I feel nervous? Why did this lockdown feel more like three months than 3.5 weeks? I bring commission work home from the studio but can’t see it properly in the smaller space. It’s just what it is.

Instead I start a new project that I can continue at home, should lockdown be required again. This project is a conversation over tea, with people I know and others I don’t. A connectedness despite and also because of the isolation.

The central images are drawings of an old Czechoslovakian tea set that somehow traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and ended up, via a rural auction house, in my kitchen. Six saucers, five cups, a creamer, sugar bowl, a very elegant tea pot, and a matching tray to carry it all to table. So loved and well used that the gilding has worn off in places. I have a collection of stamps and chinese cookie fortunes that may also make their way into each of the 22 (or more) pieces, which will be available for purchase after the show has gone public.

still in progress, this photo is taken in the morning sunlight. Every piece changes with the available light, I’m quite enchanted with them.

The grounds for these drawings are torn from a large sheet of printing paper onto which I’ve spilled and scratched out all the emotional and psychological impressions I’ve gathered each day, consciously or not. OIl pastel, silver ink, fluorescent chalk, acrylic paint, pencil crayon. The grounds are holographic, designed to shift and change with the light, just like our world does at the moment. Illusion and insight.

This week I begin to gather the accompanying conversations from people I know and don’t know. If you are interested in knowing more about this, and being part of these conversations, please let me know at keira@keiramcarthur.ca.

Your story and impressions, your insights and curiosities in these rather pivotal moments of right now are important for others to hear, I believe, since we are in this together. If you want to share and would prefer to remain anonymous, that is not a problem. Everyone who shares gets a preview before the project ‘drops’ this spring.

The ‘talking wall’ opposite my desk, where I watch for adjustments that need to be made with each piece. Also thinking about framing options.

it’s 5am again, and this pre-dawn sky is full of snowflakes. It’s the day after Sam the Plumber arrived and fixed the problem with the tub. I’ve been up since 3:30am after tossing around for eight hours, sorting through the stray unanchored stuff I picked up in the previous twelve. Some of it quite shocking, with guillotines and incarcerated women from the French Revolution (A book), first degree face burns and time-space loops (a briefly glimpsed TV series). The painting that was patiently awaiting my return to the studio…

Are they kelpies?

I shall soak these off in the tub and listen, with gratitude to Sam, as they spiral down the drain he fixed with his gentle half-smile.

List of five

A rainy 5:20 am in the darkening northern hemisphere.  It is November 1.

StudioOctober22_2015

I was lucky enough to be on the road every weekend last month, to and from Kingston, Toronto, Peterborough.  I drove through ridings filled with campaign signage, fields of shorn crops, hills of red and yellow trees, towns surrounded by housing developments and the occasional marsh, feeling grateful and tiny.  Skies full of bruised purple clouds shedding rain even as the slanted sun blazed through to set hill and valley aflame.  All night on super highways through a 386 kilometre downpour, I wondered at my strange need to always be not the fastest, but the first, even on slippery roads.

The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in
The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in

For the first hour, driving is thinking.  In the second hour mental chatter dissolves into a song of the land and the way through it.  By the third there is no-mind, by the fourth, lightness of being.  I hadn’t realized how small my world had become, before October’s road trips.  Thanksgiving, indeed.

coach house garden in old Kingston
coach house garden in old Kingston

Home on November 1 is a tunnel into winter.  I assess, I simplify, I clean up the past seven months and carefully file valuable things – deck chairs and tables, garden plants, kayak, things found on hikes, shared laughter, simple grief, great joy, humbling rage that left me stronger when it had passed.  It’s the inner garden we prepare to tend now, during and enduring the frozen months.  Experience is compost.

Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale
Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale

I draw and paint bells for a show in early December.  I dig through art history to find work that explores line, light and colour for a drawing course I’ll launch this fall and winter. I write and teach music in my studio, and plan for an open house in five weeks, while Canada reclaims her soul after a dark decade.  Me too.