Category Archives: Art

Review:

‘The Journey’ by Christine McIver

Exodus

Home is a big thing. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, home is a place you care about, with people who care about you. Losing home must be like losing a part of your own body. Losing home because of the violent acts of others is something almost unthinkably painful, and yet this may be the least of the suffering which forms the stark reality of millions of people in the world today. It is not something I find easy to think about.  It is not something I really want to think about. Perhaps “Mankind cannot bear too much reality” after all.

To the river

I think that an important role of the paintings in Christine McIver‘s exhibition “The Journey” is to bring the viewer to look again at images of migration, and to help us to think again about something that it might be easier to put out of mind.

The exhibition at the Dunblane Museum is quite small – only a dozen or so works in all, but several of these are unusually long images of a panoramic aspect ratio.  Christine’s subject is migration. She shows us shadowy tides of humanity drifting by the perimeters of our world in the liminal light of the edge of day.  These long journey-friezes, resembling lost scrolls rendered on archeologically fragile rice paper, are at first vaguenesses of crowds.  But as the eye lingers on interesting textures, and shadows of movement, individual moments of story become visible, lagging children are gathered up, pained backs hunched inward, bone-weary people prop each other up.  It’s necessary to work to visualise the details, and that requirement is part of the skill of these paintings. The eye wants to engage, and the mind needs-must follows, even if into territory that we might rather not consider.

There’s more than this at work here, and I hesitate a little before bringing up another driver that I think underlies the compassion and urge to convert empathy into action here.  It is something unfashionable, and something that I think the artist might hesitate to discuss directly…

It’s faith.

open rant

Let me be upfront about how I feel about faith. Although I’m an avowed atheist (I have been reliably told it’s a pity I’ll be going to Hell before now), I’m not a Richard-Dawkins-hang-’em-high kind of an atheist. I do have major concerns about what religious belief can do to people when it goes awry – and, Jings! it often does. Faith aggravated conflict seems itself be a significant contributing factor to the causes of so much contemporary migration. However, that doesn’t mean that I have no respect for the beliefs of the many people of faith who I know to be remarkable, generous, and plain-honest-to-goodness sound individuals. 

] rant ends. Apologies!

Having said all of which, I feel that faith is very present in this work.  The titles of some of the works like ‘Exodus’ and ‘To the river’ point the way to biblical references, and the show has a strong feel of the drive of Witness about it.  My point is that these works – which are neither derivative nor preachy – are empowered by this drive.  We do tend to fall back on biblical metaphors when presented with a sufficiently catastrophic mass of human suffering.  But I do not think this is what is happening here.  Rather it seems to me that faith, perhaps metaphorically informed by biblical narratives, is a core part of the artist’s psyche. It would have been disingenuous not to allow this to be present into these paintings.

Across open fields  (scroll to view)

This provoking show was two years in the making. It has already sold well, and this forms part of the artist’s intention to generate action as well as empathy, as proceeds are being passed on to refugee charities.

The images shown here are frustratingly small – I think it is important to meet these paintings face-to-face.  When I did I felt engaged, and compelled to think and question in several uncomfortable directions at once. Where next? I am not sure.

The Journey by Christine McIver is at the Dunblane Museum until May 29th 2017, admission is free.

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drawing breath

Trees can be very big, and some of them are very old. Their character and way of life is complex, in many ways hidden, and very different from our own. They can make us pause and they can make us gasp.

drawing breath is a collection of twelve poems arising from a collaboration with visual artist Tansy Lee Moir.

I’ve made booklet with the poems, some photographs, and some of Tansy’s drawings, and I’ve also made a series of recordings of readings.  Hope you like them!

You can find links to all of these and more about our collaboration here.

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Reading at Howden Park

I’m going to be reading some poems at Tansy Lee Moir’s residency presentation event at the Howden Park Centre, Livingston on Sunday (23d) afternoon.  If you’re anywhere nearby it’d be great to see you there.

Facebook event

Out of our collaboration I’ve written twelve poems to make a small collection called ‘Drawing Breath’. I’m going to post more about this soon, including some audio recordings, and details about a print copies.

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Charcoal

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I had a grand visit to Tansy Lee Moir’s Drawing in the Trees workshop at the Howden Park Centre yesterday.  I was there as part of my collaborative work with Tansy’s ongoing Dialogues with Trees project.  This was an excellent opportunity to see what happens in a workshop, and read one or two of the poems I’ve been writing to the artists taking part. The weather wasn’t ideal for drawing outdoors, but looking out the window today – it could’ve been worse!  We managed a quick foray between showers to some trees near to Howden Park.  Apparently watercolour pencil works well on wet paper…

After we were renewed by a quick coffee and sugar supplement, Tansy began to demonstrate some of the ways she works with charcoal to make her superb tree images. Then everyone enthusiastically started to get their hands dirty! I do enjoy photographing people when they get really engaged in a process.  Everyone’s focus was excellent and the amount and standard of work that happened in a short time demonstrated that this was a talented group of folk!

I’m sure that I will write more poems following from the experience of watching this group. I’ve found that the kind of concentrated looking that I like to use photography to achieve is a good starter for later ideas.  The truth is, however, I’m a pretty ‘slow poet’ – I don’t think I’d get far if put on the spot in the way that you sometimes hear on a radio program (“and we’ll hear what he’s written based on that story a little later in the show…”)  I suspect that perhaps there is an element of showbiz at work here, and authors might get a little more preparation time. However, fact is I’m slow, and I’m ok with that.  It takes me ages to get stuff down, and a few more ages to hammer it into something vaguely resembling a poem!

Fortunately yesterday I was in the happy position of having what I might call some Blue Peter poems. For those too young to remember or perhaps from overseas, Blue Peter was a long running UK children’s show.  Presenters demonstrating creative craft projects for young viewers would regularly reach authoritatively under the workbench to loft a minor triumph of paper, card, adult supervised use of cutting tools, and more-often-than-not ‘sticky-backed plastic’ with the words “we don’t have time to do all of this just now, but here is one that I prepared earlier…”  (I suspect that the “earlier” glueing etc was most likely in fact accomplished by craft-worker prototypes of QI’s research ‘Elves’).

A long ramble!  The point being, from my previous work with Tansy, I had some poems I’d already written about drawing and trees. So I could reach into my folder and produce something relevant that “I prepared earlier…”.  I could hardly ask for a more clued-in audience! I think the poems went down quite well. To close this post, I’ve included one below. 

For those that are interested, there is another Drawing in the Trees workshop in March.  I’ll be reading more poems at the Residency Presentation event later this April at Howden Park Centre.

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powdered charcoal

Charcoal

The fifth element, chopped and fired,
pulped, pressed and regrown as a sketch.

Only a few hundred grains
from hilltop shadows to putty pure glen.

From Marianas deep bass
to an almost inaudibly floated treble tremolo.

A winter-land in negative,
high altitude luminance over solid black ground.

A thin gauged pressure range,
stick dark ridge line and leather coaxed hollows.

A slim meniscus of opportunity
where leviathans may be tickled from grey sea mists.

Drifted mirages of wood
Emerging solid, substantial and inevitable as time.

Bodies breaching skyward,
Trunks shattered titanic in shadow-tone swells.

These fragile giants – at a clumsy sleeve
they might plunge and vanish, like a forest lost in fog.

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Collaboration: Dialogue with trees

I’m excited to be working on a collaborative project with artist Tansy Lee Moir as part of her ‘Dialogue with trees’ residency.  I’ve already made one visit to Calderwood in West Lothian to see and learn about the wonderful trees that are the subject of Tansy’s drawings.  Over the next few months I hope to visit again, and in the meantime I’ve begun work on a short series of poems developed from ideas about trees and my reactions to Tansy’s artworks.

The residency is proceeding with a series of events and workshops, and will end on April 23d 2017 with an evening at the Howden Park Centre when Tansy will give a presentation about all her work during the residency, and I’ll be giving readings including poetry developed over the course of our collaboration.

You can see an exhibition of Tansy’s superb drawings of trees right now at the Howden Park Centre in West Lothian.

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SciArt ‘Embodied’ Interview

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SciArt Magazine has published an interview I did following up on my work in the recent ‘Embodied‘ exhibit. They had some hard questions!

More here…

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Review: Elementum No 1

‘Ocean Beat’ by Sorrel Wilson and Jay Armstrong

Reading Elementum is something of a subtle sensual overload.  This new journal ‘of nature and story’ is a beautifully judged amalgam of photographs, art, narratives, poems, design, paper craft and ink. Everything about it seems set to put a brake on the swish-swish-swoosh mode of browsing engendered by too much shiny screen time.  The matt surface of paper itself gives the eye traction, and the words on the page offer a firm growing medium for thought.  This is rich soil.  And, like a healthy loam, the book – it’s fair to call it that, as it is a decent index finger think – has it’s own intoxicating scent. I’m reading while basking in the fertile tang of printer’s ink.  Contributor and editor Jay Armstrong has made a marvellous thing! Continue reading