Posted on 1 Comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

time folds

Somewhere after the second sip time folded in on itself. It was 7am only a moment ago when I put my second coffee down to cool. 

7am

I’ve done many things but 6.5 hours has felt like a moment. It has only become clock time again because my feet are cold. As is my second coffee. I’m a bit disoriented – is this flow?

Dad’s ball of selenite, yellow roses, family lantern with tealight lit

Now it’s 5pm. The two hours since I wrote the above have been filled with practicalities – dishes, cat, misc attendings-to, another coffee. Children and dogs loud and active in the apartment below, sunlight and wind outside. All in a moment.

trees at a stoplight on Gage Ave, north of Barton

The studio calls and I’m eager to get there, via some soup & exercise. The plan is to put the final wash and finish on one portrait and get the base drawing for another onto its wood panel. Play around a little more with the triptych – (final decision re adding a wood panel or not). Build the certificates for all six pieces.

Quite possibly that will just feel like a moment and take six hours. 

After another moment it is 9:30pm and I wake into clock time again because I’m exhausted. I’ll take my copy of Beresford-Kroeger’s To Speak for the Trees to my horizontal place & surrender myself back into the time fold of sleep.

Posted on Leave a comment

Cabin Stories 5: death and life

In right now there is reverence

deep prayer, an endless, thunder-throated,

steady dripping Love.

The shore waves sing a slow ballad in 7/8 time.

IMG_1305

Good deaths are soft. A miraculous easing of release.

A shedding

a moulting

a fall, then surrender to moss and insect

to beautiful, fragrant rot:

With my body I nourish thee.

IMG_1306

Or with a scream, to announce the end

before the snapped neck, the severed jugular

The feed, even as last breath releases:

With my body I nourish thee.

IMG_1311

There are other deaths.

Reactive, angry, resentful.

Only humans die this way,

non-compostable, ungenerous

like broken plastic buckets

that can feed no one.

IMG_1307

another death I can find no mirror for,

here among the trees, or in the song of the lake:

A human distortion again, since

This One is badly injured, but still alive.

You miss your mark, wound, then walk away?

IMG_1309

You dishonour Love?

It is impossible to nourish anything with this

if you won’t claim it as yours, if you deny it release.

There is only hush and hesitation then. Wrongness.

The crows cannot gather the shining story.

growth stops.

IMG_1308

So. I see her.

I will take my sharp knife

with proper gratitude and joy,

and release She you could not see

from the living, breathing world.

Since you cannot, I will make a good end for her.

IMG_1310

She is willing, graceful.

With this body, I nourish thee.

NOTE: When I was a kid I used to catch and keep caterpillars in jars. I wanted to watch them be, save them from being stepped on as my grandfather used to do with righteous conviction.

The moment of this morning in the deep thunder rain was one in which I understood that nothing is static. Release through death is nourishment, which is then decomposition, integration back into the world – lessons from a lifetime deepened, woven back into the ecosystem. We are only small in this system, but we are many. There is in fact no use in the forest for glass jars, or plastic buckets; you can’t, even with philosophy and romance, separate death from life. To try is to distort, and cause harm.

Thanks for reading this.