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Earth Day, 2am

China, made from clay deposits in northern Czechoslovakia, close to the German border. From the earth, these fine, fragile things are fired, glazed and gilded, then bought by people who wish to make a ceremony of visiting over coffee. Add the story of the Paris Accords, then WWII, concentration camps, confiscation of shares, the Holocaust… intergenerational trauma.

These fragile, gentle pieces survive intact and still beautiful in the sunlight, half a world away from the little village where they were made eighty years before. This moves me.

Drawn to examine each one more closely. Where a hand slipped while drawing gold onto a tiny cup. What concentration! Essential, the steady steady hands and singular focus of each craftsperson in the gilding room. Was it a relief from worrying about what was going on around them, about what had happened to the jewish workers they had replaced? Was it a kind of defiance I wonder – making beauty in the face of death and abuse. I know, because now I am drawing their gilding work into my paintings, that their work could not have been done without love. 

Light in the darkness, love in the making of beautiful things for people to drink from, take pause with, to gather around in friendship. It was a business, too, and paid work at a time of great uncertainty.

My work here is also a business that continues through a time of  global uncertainty. I find myself isolated and in a city I don’t know, looking for new expressive work and surrendered to the fact that I cannot be in my studio to work on canvas. I think about how I love light and form – the singular focus of expressing this love, with whatever is to hand, on paper.  I find my dad’s travel watercolour set and some torn up bits, while drinking tea from an ornate china set I bought at auction…

As I draw them I discover my own fragility in the tiny cups, also my own worn toughness, my beauty. I think of trauma and how important things can happen even in the midst of it, especially in the healing of it. How we break and mend and wear through trauma, how we continue to function and grow. I think of what I’ve learned from Idle No More, and Black Lives Matter. The understandings that emerge still from The Holocaust, from post-colonial, post-apartheid cultures, from the American Civil War, the French Revolution, The Clearances in Scotland that sent my ancestors out across the sea, exiled from the land that once sustained them.

I think of time, and how as I work all of these things are happening NOW in my mind, interwoven and in conversation together. 

Some stories light up like a flash moment of insight. Others are more like a flush of colour, a scratched line. Gilding sits on the surface, a skill that improves only with practice and focus. A skill I learn now, taught by the hands and minds of the gilders in Poschetzau from eighty years ago. Steady, steady hands as their world changed, all around them.

Piece number 8, a cup and saucer; number 12 a sugar bowl and spoon…. a madness of elipses from every angle, curves and fluting, pin-stripe gilding flashing in the light, transparent white glowing blue in shadows. I am called to get it right, to honour the 80 years of dignified function these pieces have lived. How many lips to this cup? How many hands to that handle, pouring… In what country? In what language? During what conversations, and with whom?

I think of how much I miss gathering with others at table, at coffee shops, over breakfast. This hasn’t happened for over a year now, since the pandemic lockdowns began. I’ve made many little pieces on torn up bits and on a whim I lay them out on my dining room table, like puzzle pieces that connect through colour and line.

This is satisfying on so many levels – a gathering, of sorts, in my house. Now a large painting is made from eleven smaller ones, each representing a moment I would like to share, a person, or persons I would like to join with in conversation. Torn apart, but still one piece, reconstructed. Then two more large pieces, reconstructed – one dark, another light.

It makes more sense every day, this work. Each piece will be framed, and also printed in very limited editions. The reconstructed pieces will be printed on paper and possibly re-worked (we’ll see what happens), then sold in very limited editions as well. Working to get all of this happening and online for you by early June. Stay tuned here.

It is earth day, 2021. I draw and paint from pieces of china made from eastern European clay. China made eighty years ago by people with steady hands in the midst of chaos. With my own steady hands I do my best to honour them in paintings while in lockdown in my apartment, which is the top two floors of a house made a hundred years ago of red clay brick from just over there. The abandoned brickworks beside the train tracks that I walk past every other day .

All of this – china, house, paper, laptop, paintings, my steady hands, are made from earth.

And now it’s 5am; the cardinal sings outside. Happy Earth Day.

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I feel change

It’s a mouth-taste, odd.  Also pit of my stomach when I notice I’ve casually ‘turned over a stone’ and uncovered memories from 13 years ago.  Remembering I ran away then, wondering at the grand plan that overrode those better instincts and pinned me like a specimen inside a story that wasn’t mine. For a decade.

Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Darbyshire.
Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.

I understand I’m being triggered by recent events that have little to do with me.  It’s fascinating – I feel my pulse change as old traumas rise to the surface, still stinking like dead fish.

In three years I’ve healed enough to function well at a steady pace, to build new systems that will I hope benefit many, articulate plans well enough to go hunt them with proposals, maintain full-time work and a part-time Masters study.  But these rememberings are embedded deeper than surface function.

I’m shocked, ten years on, by the detail of my recall.

 

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This is happening now because I’m painting again, in preparation for the December 3 Studio Tour.  There is no way around it – the visual art work always takes me down and in.  The paintings are a by-product.

Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters
Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters

Standing Rock #NoDAPL,which on facebook is getting twenty to thirty times the coverage of the US election, world-wide.  It’s not just the pit of my stomach that knows this is a game-changer.  Idle No More, indeed.

I seek to understand my own ancestors, and the ways and means I can forgive them – industrialists, colonials all – for the damage they wrought here.  I am part of that history – that long awful story of dominance, abuse and neglect.

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My belly is telling me change is here.  It’s time for a new story.

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Colour Pages #7: White

Veritas.

It’s dark down there – difficult to see, to dig and keep digging.  At the bottom of it, when you get there, you find an understanding that changes the shape of your world.    LindenwoodtrailLookout

I’ve just watched a film about a young prosecutor with great natural integrity who is working in Frankfurt just after WWII.  He is drawn to dig for answers in places where his colleagues are oddly reluctant to go, specifically about what happened at a work camp in Poland.  What happened at Auschwitz is revealed to him through the stories of survivors and he realizes with growing horror that all 8000 soldiers who worked at the camp are complicit.  That everyone who knew what was happening, what had happened, and did nothing, was complicit.

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A culture which covertly rewards cruelty and entitlement to violence is a culture grievously sick.  It’s a culture of people who need desperately to examine and understand their own internal darkness.  It is us, our blood memory.

We are all of us in need of Truth, and then the reconciliation that leads to healing.

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Here’s an excerpt from a story I read on social media this morning, published by “A Mighty Girl” (an organization that collects such stories and offers them as empowerment to young people)

Twenty years ago today, Keshia Thomas was 18 years old when the KKK held a rally in her home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hundreds of protesters turned out to tell the white supremacist organization that they were not welcome in the progressive college town. At one point during the event, a man with a SS tattoo and wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Confederate flag ended up on the protesters’ side of the fence and a small group began to chase him. He was quickly knocked to the ground and kicked and hit with placard sticks.

As people began to shout, “Kill the Nazi,” the high school student, fearing that mob mentality had taken over, decided to act. Thomas threw herself on top of one of the men she had come to protest, protecting him from the blows, and told the crowd that you “can’t beat goodness into a person.” In discussing her motivation for this courageous act after the event, she stated, “Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘this isn’t right’… I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me… violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”

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Colour pages 1-6 are meditations on red, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

White is made of all these colours, in balance.  Enlightenment.

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I offer that white is kindness – a simple act of compassion that can unravel any knot of negativity, ease pain, transform anger into forgiveness.  Firm, clear and clean, the white of compassion is a balm to the discolourment of pain.

"Sorrow", otherwise known as Mother Canada, from the memorial at Vimy Ridge
“Sorrow” from the memorial at Vimy Ridge

White is a still, safe, tender place where stories can be told, and heard.

It’s where we find the courage to heal ourselves.