Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Indiana and the Temple of Leaf

Botanical art
Botanical illustration of 'Indiana' (Catalpa bignonioides)
work in progress - 76 x 56cm - watercolour on paper

Its been a month.. I won't apologise as I had nothing of importance to say and dislike publishing drivel. It certainly has been a odd time, I know it usually is in my world, but there has been a lot of too-ing and fro-ing in space and time. I am basically doing more 'time travel' than usual and it still goes on. At first it took me by surprise as I entered what I call the 12th house* back in December. As you already know, it took me to some dark places (the maze), but now its taking me to some wonderful places and since January I have decided to just let go and ride this Wonker-like roller-coaster.

Polar Bear, the steam engine I used to work on as a 
child at Amberley Museum - my very own roller-coaster

This morning I find myself going through some receipts I found from my trip to California back 2013 and this is what I mean by time travel. It can take on all sorts of forms. Last night while I was trying to get to sleep, I found myself in the dens of my childhood, riding steam engines and eating picnics. What is peculiar about these experiences is that they aren't just memories or spells of reminiscence - I am actually THERE. I can smell the smoke and hear the birds, feel the clay dust, the soot and the dampness of the woodlands of Amberley Museum where I was 'brought up'. I can hear the wurring of the heater under my feet in the gift shop and navigate my way through all the offices at different stages of their own evolution. I can jump from one theatre bench to another and cast shadow puppets on the wall where the projector casts its light. I can see all the hundreds of museum keys mounted on another wall, all splattered in oil and grime from dirty hands and engines. I spot the cat and enter the mess room. I trace every line on every worn out face and collect years of experience from their tired eyes. Stained tea cups, coffee grounds, chalk footprints. The clank, clank, clank of the blacksmith going about his work, the toot from the train and the ding of the cow bell on the pottery bicycle. This is so real, it is like I am on drugs. Is this full blown nostalgia I wonder? I don’t think it is, as there is no sense of longing, its just I am there like ghost, like a time traveller. I can even watch myself. It is poignant, the entire vision isn't nostalgia it is a garment of clothing that covers my skin and makes me, me.

It has been rather beautiful this January... still no rain and lots of sunshine.
The farmers are a bit worried about the lack of rain, but life goes on.


As I find myself there again, in the wonderland of my childhood, I come to remember I giant ceramic bean that my mother made for an event at the museum, I must have been 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a carefully planned operation by my mother. She made this enormous deep red bean which was glazed in cadmium red and gold ready for a special day where all the children would come into the site, see the enormous bean (which was about as big as 2 year old) and help to dig a hole to bury it. Then, come Christmas, it would have grown into a giant bean stalk ready for Santa's grotto. I helped with the installation... painting massive bean leaves against a cloudy blue sky in the freezing cold December air in a pair of dungarees. Things like this have made me who I am, nothing has changed, I am still painting big leaves.

Botanical art
The beginnings of the Judas Leaf - started yesterday


I watched the 'Immortal Egyptians' on the BBC last week (recommend it!)... again, I found myself leaving my present state of being. I was not in Spain, I was not 31 years old, I was 8 years old, in the British Museum on my first school trip, staring down at a petrified (naturally mummified) corpse called 'Ginger'. Time stopped when I was 8 just like it did last last week, but when I was 8 years old I was travelling even further back. I was picturing him laying in the desert. That moment was so important to me that I actually decided to start this blog back in 2009 using the poem I wrote about the experience in 1992. Museums... they seem to have pretty much dictated my evolution.


Botanical art

The leaves continue to evolve and grow and I think I have a title for the show, although it isn't set in stone yet: 'The Botanical Menagerie'. It's either this or 'Leafscapes'. The first is an attempt to try and describe the fact that these are leaves in 'cages' on display - like a menagerie, or a zoo. The second has a double meaning on the fact that the paintings are like landscapes or maps, but it is also a bit of a pun as the leaves are trying to 'escape'. Anyway - I welcome your thoughts on these titles. It might be that the whole double show is the 'menagerie' and then under this title come the leafscapes and the RHS. 

So, news front - my studio has turned into a forest of leaves as I keep starting new works, getting the skeletons in and then moving onto the next one. I am not sure why I am working like this. It is rather frenzied and not my usual style. I feel that there is a subconscious tactic to this approach - it's almost like I am trying to see what a bunch of enormous leaves look like together and if this is actually going to work before investing too much time on each individual piece, whilst also ensuring that they are all finished 'together' at the same skill level. I am finding that with all this practice my painting is most certainly improving and this could mean that the leaves I do right this minute might end up looking very different to the leaves I finish in December 2016. As with all shows, I feel that there needs to be a level of consistency, so to juggle them around in this way is helping to achieve this. Come summer, when I am working from live specimens, I won't be able to do this as well, but these dried petrified leaves seem to be helping me with this process.

Botanical art
Indiana, Indie and Pop1. 

I nipped into London this month to see the Julia Cameron exhibition and the Bauer Brothers, both of which were lovely, intimate shows. I like intimate, bite sized exhibitions - they are so much easier to digest and usually less busy. The Bauer brothers was so small that no one in the Natural History Museum knew what I was talking about when I asked where it was or where the book was in the gift shop. It was a secret show! Anyway, I am already looking forward to going back to London for the Georgia O'Keefe show at Tate in the Autumn. Can't wait!

Botanical art studio
And here they all are (bar one)... 

*Astrological terminology for the 12th house that is often associated with dreams and illusions - the room within a room.

1 comment:

  1. Leaves are always so complicated to me, beautiful work