Thursday, 24 December 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Things That The Light Brings

Just past the shortest day again and we are in the middle of those grey days that hardly seem to get light.  Yet these early mornings, just as the world is waking up, can feel really cosy.  The house has just a few pools of soft interior light, either from lamps or from the fire, and outside the quiet darkness wraps around it like a blanket.  At this time of year I am fully dependent on using daylight bulbs in order to paint.  Hence I was pretty grumpy when the main one went pop last week and I was forced to stop work (I’m always a bit grumpy if I have to stop work!).  As my work is so much about colour, I was unable to continue.  Without a sufficient level of daylight illumination it is impossible to see the true colour of the paint.  Happily it has now been replaced with an even stronger bulb and thus normal service has been resumed!

This December also brought another opportunity to see the Geminid meteor shower.  The conditions at peak time were supposed to be perfect - i.e., no moon, which would mean that the shooting stars would show up more clearly.  Unfortunately a thick and persistent cloud base put pay to that. However, during that period, on the Sunday before last, I listened to quite a bit of BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from their Northern Lights series.  It was fascinating.  I was especially interested to hear the programme about St. Lucia’s Day, one of the biggest festivals in Sweden.  December 13th was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, according to the Julian calendar and a festival of light in Sweden.  It turned into a saints day because a young Christian girl, called Lucia, was killed for her faith in 304AD.  Apparently the most common story told about her is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city.  She would wear candles on her head so that she had both hands free to carry things.  St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by dressing a girl in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.  The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter.

This week has brought the restoration of our telephone line which was mistakenly cut off two weeks ago by BT.  In the process of transferring us to fibre optic broadband, they mistakenly switched off the voice comms - whoops!  We are benefitting from the government’s initiative to bring better broadband to rural communities - something which appears to be more of a challenge than any of the protagonists had anticipated!  However, what I do find amazing is that the data now travels to us in the form of pulses of light, propagated along the cable by reflection.  The engineer explained to me that the fibre optics are strands of glass, each as thin as a human hair.  They are protected by a thermo-plastic coating and a plastic jacket to keep them secure.  Each is also surrounded by mirrored cladding. These fibres are then bundled together into a single cable which is specially treated in order to make it as flexible as possible.  When light enters the cable it hits the mirrored wall and bounces along in a zigzagging pattern until it reaches its destination. Thus the straight line of light can be transmitted around many curves as it transmits information to and from our home. Amazing.

Another December event in the village is the annual lighting of the Christmas tree.  This involves gathering on the green, singing some Carols, flicking the switch and then retiring to a nearby house for copious amounts of mulled wine and mince pies!  There is also another aspect of the event that is a regular feature.  Someone will read out a list of names, compiled by people living in the village, of those that have died and whom they wish to be remembered.  And so it is that I now remember a woman that I never knew, someone whose name is always on the list.  I hear her name mentioned often and since moving here in 2013 numerous local people have told me positive stories about her friendship to them and of many small acts of kindness.  Even I, who never met her, would recognise her face, as it smiles out from a photograph in the village hall.  Just one snapshot among many, taken at a public event some years ago.  She looks like a very unassuming middle-aged woman.  Her cheerful husband sits beside her with obvious pride.  But she made a difference here.  She may not have changed the world in a global sense, but what is evident to me is that her presence and the kindness which she showed to others have left a legacy - both within individual people and with the culture of the community.  In fact, I can say that I have benefited directly as a result of her existence here.

One of the things that she did was to instigate a fortnightly coffee morning in the village hall. This she ran for 15 years.  It is always very well attended as many of us that live here are either self-employed or retired.  There are also some parents with small children and other people that work on the land nearby.  And so it was that we found ourselves at one of these village events, the last before Christmas 2013, just days after our arrival.  It was heaving.  We squeezed our way in and, over coffee and mince pies, chatted away to complete strangers who introduced us from one to another and finally to two people who have been particularly warm and welcoming to us and who have become very good friends.  You could say that we may never have met them or settled so happily here if it had not been for that woman’s initiative and willingness to take action on behalf of her neighbours.

Last Sunday afternoon, on leaving the Carol Service in our little medieval church, I noticed a small plaque near to the porch on which had been placed a string of tiny white lights.  It is her memorial stone.  I thought that the lights were a fitting symbol for someone whose kindness is still having on effect on her friends and neighbours and even those that she never met. Thank you for Christine.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

The Shapes And Flight Patterns Of Birds

When I look out of my studio window the view is across a gentle valley.  Perched, as we are, on the edge of a plateau in the terrain, I see the farmland falling down and away before rising up again to meet the wood and the hedge about a mile away.  If I stand at the garden’s perimeter and look to the left and to the right, the only buildings that I see are the top of the medieval church and one minute pink triangle - the eaves of a farmhouse - embedded in the tree line on the distant horizon.  I walk in this landscape every day and observe its constant and rhythmic changes.  The familiar patterns weave their way continually into my paintings, as do its inhabitants.  We are fortunate to have a very rich and varied wildlife here, which I learn more about as the months and years pass.

I have been especially fascinated to watch the birds this year, particularly to observe their flight patterns.  The gulls and crows in Spring and Autumn hang like kites as they face into the strong wind that whips across the hillside.  Periodically they allow themselves to be swept and carried away before flying back into it and holding fast.  They look as if they are riding the wind, almost surfing the waves of air.  They repeat this hold / surrender / hold / surrender pattern over and over again.  It looks like pure freedom.

Perhaps the supreme rider of the air currents is the buzzard.  One morning, in early Summer, I came across one standing on the ground just outside the wood.  He, or she, let me get quite close before taking off with slow but powerful movements. I was amazed to see how large a bird the buzzard actually is and how big its wingspan (1.1 - 1.4m).  Up and up it went, in a lazy corkscrew motion, until it was a small, floating speck.  I could hear its mewing call - a strangely high voice for such a large bird!

Now, in late Autumn, I look out into our garden and to our meadow beyond, where the small birds are constantly foraging and where the pheasant and green woodpecker have become regular visitors.  Flocks of partridges can also be seen taking off and gliding in formation at low level to further feeding grounds.  I have featured these take-offs in several recent paintings, whether it is crows travelling to roost on Autumn evenings or pigeons and gulls suddenly rising up en masse.  I have also portrayed the barn owl hunting at night.  I occasionally see these as I drive to Lavenham and back on the high lanes.  They appear and disappear, phantom-like, in the beams of the car headlights.

In all of this work I am not claiming to produce anatomically correct illustrations, but to capture the moment when I see the shape of a bird out of the corner of my eye as I pass a tree or hedge or see their movements as they fly and interact with the more static shapes of their surroundings.  These paintings, part of my work for various gallery Christmas shows, was begun in August.  I have produced around 25 paintings which are divided between four exhibitions.  In fact, it is very rare for me to produce a painting without at least one bird in it somewhere!

I am currently working on a couple of last-minute orders and after that will begin work for a larger scale exhibition in the Spring.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Einstein On The Beach

The first piece of music that I ever heard by the composer Philip Glass was an excerpt from his 1976 opera “Einstein On The Beach”.  It seemed to consist of multi-layered voices counting, chanting and reciting.  I found it fascinating.  It was strange and mesmerising and I liked it.  I also liked the intriguing title of the opera.  Why call it that?

I later discovered that these words stem from a real event which occurred in 1933, when Albert Einstein was on his way to a new life in America, in order to escape the rising anti-semitism in Germany.  En route he was given refuge by an eccentric English MP called Oliver Locker-Lampson. Commander Locker-Lampson offered him a place to stay in the East Anglian countryside.  The accommodation was an isolated hut on Roughton Heath on the North Norfolk coast.  There are old black and white photographs of the physicist standing near to a roughly hewn cabin.  Apparently no-one knows its exact location today.

I’ve always found this idea fascinating - that the great scientist and twentieth century thinker should find himself in solitude in this remote corner of England.  This coastline is a part of my own family history and I am particularly fond of it.  I like to think of him there, gazing out to sea and not only working on his theories but also looking back over his life and wondering what lay ahead - not just for him, but for the world as a whole.

My appreciation of the music of Philip Glass has grown since that first discovery.  I have listened to it countless times over years as I have worked.  I love his score for the soundtrack to “The Hours” and particularly his piano music.  I recently bought “Glass Piano” and “Opening” by Bruce Brubaker.  My purchases reminded me again of the strange story of the scientist and his little Norfolk hut, which led me to produce a painting in response.  I hope that I have created a harmonious and peaceful work which conveys the idea of contemplative solitude.

This is a theme that has inspired me before and I am sure that it is one to which I will return.  The repetition and reinterpretation of stories and ideas has run through my work over the years.  Perhaps this is part of the appeal of this particular composer’s music for me.  "Glass Piano"  “Opening”, played by Bruce Brubaker  BBC Radio Four, “Philip Glass: Taxi Driver”

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

The Breathing Sea

Ooof!  The hottest day for nine years.  The radio has just reported official advice suggesting we avoid going out in the sun until after 3pm.  I think that’s the first time that I have heard such an announcement.  I will be following it though and I’m glad that Millie and I took our morning walk earlier than usual.  I don’t think that either of us fancy puffing along in this heat.  I did manage to finish a new painting today though and gesso some additional panels, but now even the studio has grown hot and I have retired to the cool of the house to work on other things.  It is in the summer that old houses come into their own and we forget how many jumpers that we need to pile on during winter months!

We have recently returned from a week at the coast.  We hired a small cottage just a stone’s throw from the beach and three doors down from the pub.  It proved to be a very restful time.  I enjoyed the change of landscape.  I love the agriculture further inland, but the scrubby hinterland of the coast is attractive in a different way.  It seems to be made up of more small, thin, sharp lines.  If I were drawing it in pen and ink there would be more hatching.  There are numerous pine trees, reeds, grasses and other plants with narrow, blade-like leaves.  I always collect pebbles from the beach and these are the other shapes that I associate with the location - the smooth, round edges of the solid forms.  They make me think of the sculptures of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.  The stones are simply relaxing to look at, even before handling them.  It doesn’t surprise me that they are used in Eastern meditation and therapeutic practices.  It’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is about them that is so pleasing to the brain.

Another thing that I love when I’m by the coast, is to have the windows open at night and to listen to the sea rising and falling on the shingle beach.  This is sporadically accompanied by the low tones of the cattle that graze on the nearby salt marshes.  Why is the sound of the sea so relaxing?  Perhaps it sounds a little like breathing…..

I remember that as a small child I was allowed to get into bed with my Dad for an hour on a Sunday morning, whilst my Mum went downstairs to prepare a cooked breakfast.  We would listen to the radio or he would give me mental arithmetic to do.  Sometimes he just wanted to carry on sleeping and if he did, and I couldn’t, I would lay my small head on his chest and try to match my little breaths to his slow and deep respiration.  It usually did the trick.  I think that the speed and sound of the gentle waves are similar to that.

It still works.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Monday, 13 April 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

“Begin Afresh, Afresh, Afresh”

I can’t believe that it’s April already.  As soon as January is over, the year seems to pick up speed!  The trees are nearly out now.  I took a photograph of the horse-chestnut on the green.  It was a shot taken from below, looking up through the branches.  Those nearly-open leaves remind me of folded umbrellas.  I remembered the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, “The trees are coming into leaf, Like something almost being said…”  What a brilliant piece of poetry!  Those two images put together are a cleverly-crafted work of art.  The last verse is also excellent: 

“Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May,
Last year is dead they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

When I read that I can see the heavy, fullgrown tops of the trees moving with huge energy in response to the warm Spring winds and hear their sound.  There seems to be so much power and strength in them.

Beginning afresh can be a good thing I think.  I haven’t painted for a couple of weeks.  Illness prevented me from doing anything for a week and that period of time merged into the Easter holidays.  I do think that the enforced break has been a useful hiatus.  I was tired and my mind needed some space.  Last week we made a trip to the coast (chips on the beach at Aldeburgh is always helpful I find!) and I have visited a few galleries just to happily browse around.  There are also some interesting events coming up which will refresh the palate.  This week, for example, sees the beginning of the Cambridge Literary Festival which I will be attending.  Later in the month is the 10th Anniversary Show organised by Cobbold & Judd, which will give me the opportunity of viewing new work by Patrick George and Maggi Hambling as well as Annabel Gault, Patrice Lombardi and Ari Shand.  

Another great pleasure of this month is working on the veg plot.  This will also be a week of planting AND of covering with wire in order to keep the young rabbits and muntjac away!

In many ways this feels more like the start of a new year than January did because everything is beginning to come back to life.  I can’t wait to get into the studio, gesso some panels and begin some new work.  To experiment and to “start afresh, afresh, afresh.”

“The Trees” by Philip Larkin
Cambridge Literary Festival, Spring 2015, 14-19 April
“10th Anniversary Show”, Cobbold & Judd, Orwell Park, Nacton, Suffolk, 24-30 April

All text (except poem) & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

“Plus ├ža change”… and all that

The first day of Spring, meterologically speaking, and I’ve been outside filming the light moving across the landscape.  It’s been windy and bright this morning and the clouds have been blown speedily over the sun, changing the variations in tone and colour rapidly and repeatedly.  The gulls returned this afternoon - flying into the wind, hanging almost static at times, like white smudges above the umber earth, then suddenly turning and letting the full force of the air currents whisk them away, only to return and begin again.  

I’m glad that Spring is here and that there will be increasing levels of daylight in which to work.  The dark, short days of Winter reduce the decent painting hours.  Nevertheless, I have completed work for the first show of the year and made strong in-roads into the second set.

My work is changing too.  It has always had a life of it’s own and just when I think that it is settled it moves into another transition phase.  Currently it is becoming looser and more gestural.  All detail is gone for me now. Age has exchanged it for energy. I suppose that I’m trying more and more to capture what a moment in time felt like.  I am thinking about all the senses, not just the visual.  The temperature of the air, the wind on my skin, the sounds around me, etc.  I find that I need to put away sketches and move photographs to the periphery of my vision.  I close my eyes and recall the memory of being there.  I open them and begin with almost anything - a colour that says something about the quality of the light or a shape that has lodged in my brain.  I try to work quickly and instinctively not over-thinking the marks, letting my arm make almost sub-conscious movements.  Then I will step back and see what has been revealed.  I keep doing this until I spot a key element around which I will develop the composition.  Then the colours cut in and I start balancing one against another until a piece that hangs together as a whole is created. I put in and I take out, and sometimes the taking-out turns out to be a putting-in.  Marks made seemingly by chance can sometimes become key elements and the best features of a painting because they are the least self-conscious.  It’s the spontaneity that usually yields the most accurate result.  Over-working and trying too hard can squeeze the life out a piece….but that is easier said than done!

I have often wondered why my work changes as it does. It’s a bit like Dr.Who metamorphosing into different versions of himself. I suppose it is simply because I am changing and will continue to do so.  The older I get, the faster I want to work. This means that I have to break my day into smaller sections.  The hours spent standing at the easel have been replaced by shorter periods of 2 - 2.5 hours.  These are interspersed with lunch, a walk or tasks of a contrasting nature, in order to refresh body and brain.  Then it is back to the easel with a fresh eye to begin again.

In an interview broadcast on Radio 4, David Hockney quoted a Chinese saying - “painting is an old man’s game”.  I have heard it said too that a painter does not hit their stride until they are 60.  Not that much time left for me, but still time to improve.  Keep on working, keep on changing.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson