Category Archives: Art

Beholding

Up to the minute thoughts here – this story, poem and picture are about a moment in a day in November 2014! My thoughts go back to it from time to time, and for a number of reasons. Why write it today? I’m not really sure – but here goes anyway.

Young boy drawing Stubbs' 'Whistlejacket' at the National Gallery in London

This picture was taken in the National Gallery in London in mid November 2014. I would have been unable to take it the week before, because the week before was the last in which visitors were not allowed to use a camera in the gallery.

I have a pretty poor memory, but I do remember a few things from that day. As well as the many tourists taking this new opportunity to snap their way around the nation’s artistic highlights, I’m pretty sure this was the first time I stood in front of a Caravaggio. The painting was ‘Supper at Emmaus’ – the flashier version, the one with high drama and big hands. There is something unique about the way light interacts with layers of oil paint. Something that defies reproduction in any other medium. No matter how fine the quality of a photograph or print, it cannot record the confusions of depth, those ambiguities of transmission that, in the hands of a master, seem to make the thing just, well, glow.

I stood and stared while the cameras clicked on. I didn’t want to photograph this amazing thing in front of me, I wanted to breathe it in through my eyes.

Further along the gallery I found something I did want to photograph, in front of one of the English artist George Stubbs’ most famous horse portraits ‘Whistlejacket’. This shows the ribbon of vibrant muscle that is an immaculate Arabian thoroughbred – rearing on a field of gold. The horse was a race winner owned by Stubbs’ patron the second Marquess of Rockingham. At the time the painting was first shown, some, reacting to the absence of rider, or any other details other than the horse itself, suggested it was incomplete. Stubbs, however knew his craft exceptionally well, and knew the object of his purpose in painting, perhaps to the point of obsession.

My photograph wan’t Stubbs’ painting – what interested me was the intense attention of a young draughtsman sitting in front of my it. Drawing in the National Gallery is a long-standing tradition. Artists seek to learn from those who have gone before, or bring their own technique or observation into sharper focus. I am and will remain a dedicated photographer, but still I can see that drawing like this can involve a more intense and active way looking. Being there, it transpires, is often everything.

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Beholding

Until yesterday – you had to draw
to make an image in this place.
From today – photography is allowed –
just click to capture (but no flash, please).

I was there, and so was Christ –
Caravaggio’s, supping at Emmaus.
Have you seen the painting or
only pictures printed, or on a screen?

Fermat’s principle is confounded in oils –
refraction confused as rays are cosseted,
kept and honeyed through the layers.
Additions are made, and given back.

It’s more than OTT – it’s airborne.
“Just back from the dead – yeah, but … Shh!”
I don’t believe, but I can’t photograph magic,
so I simply stand beholding, breathing light.

Twenty paces on another immortal
hangs on the opposite wall,
glowing chestnut on a field of gold.
All racehorses are minor gods.

The critics balked – “When will you finish?”
“Where’s the scenery?” “Where’s his rider?”

He knew. The thoroughbred rears forever –
heartbreak still, eyes high-strung in doubt.

I found a photograph to keep the day.
Back to me, eight perhaps, sat on the floor –
drawing the horse, his horse, his racing lines –
the crowd invisible, his gaze alight.

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Getting REEL

walker in silhouette

REELPoetry 2022 – the festival of poetry film, is on 25/26/27th February, live (in Texas) and online (everywhere). I’m delighted to have been able to curate a short program of poetry films, which I’ve called Stravaig. I like to think of it as a wander through film-poems both from Scotland, and around the globe about the natural world and our relationship with it.

As well as a couple of my own short films, the Straviag program (Festival program, Day 1: 26th Feb) has works from film makers I am really pleased to be able to include – Life-breath Songs, presented by Scotland’s Makar Kathleen Jamie – the poet driving this national poetry collaboration – is a collection of three beautiful poetry films by eminent Scottish poetry film maker Alastair Cook (founder of Filmpoem), and featuring the gorgeous voice of Eilidh Cormack (of folk trio Sian). The Mirror is a poised collaboration between poet Em Strang and filmmaker Jonny Randall.

I’m also very pleased to be able to include the challenging The animal that therefore I am by award winning Dutch filmmaker Bea de Visser – a unique collaboration with animals (and other human animals). Jesse Adlam’s and poet Greta Stoddart’s Lie in a field on your back gives a precious moment of pause in the rush of the world. Artist Alisha Anderson delivers a remarkable visual-speech-poem centred on the aftermath of forest fire in Meristem. The wave by Janet Lees with poet Lucia Sellars is a song for and of the sea, and for life.

REELPoetry 2022 – the festival of poetry film, is on 25/26/27th February, live (in Texas) and online (everywhere). For tickets and program details see http://www.publicpoetry.net/reelpoetry (Please remember to adjust event times from CST to your own timezone.)

REELPoetry 2022 poster

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Poetry and Science Podcast

I’m very excited to be joining in a podcast by La Ninfa Eco international literary site later this month. The show is about poetry and science, and will feature the Consilience Journal team members, and items from several Consilience contributors.

Special Guests: Sam Illingworth, Steve Smart, Stephen Paul Wren, Ruth Aylett, Angie Lo, Miranda L. Barnes, Clint Wastling & Kate Jenkinson.

Host: Gaby Sambuccetti

Date: 26th May 2021

Time: 3.30 pm (BST)

Click for details about contributors and this episode which will stream live on La Ninfa Eco social media platforms.


Ghost print

My friend Jerry asked me if I’d like to do a piece for his blog, so I wrote and recorded a text and a poem.

(Plus – you know, he said nice things about me – you gotta take what you can get!)

If you click to view the original post on Jerry’s blog, there is a Soundcloud of the whole thing as a sort of minipodcast.

My My Corona

My friend Steve Smart is one of those people who overflows with talent. He’s a photographer, filmmaker, poet and all around Mr Fix-it when it comes to media and tech things. You can see his work here. He’s brought together a number of his talents with a lovely reflective, poetic piece appropriate to our times. Feast on this (a script follows):

Ghost print

Last night I was listening to an excellent BBC podcast in which artist Norman Ackroyd talks with author Robert Macfarlane.

Both are people whose work I admire hugely, and the conversation was a treat which I recommend. Amongst many topics covered at some point they touched on a story about an ancient hand stencil. This piece of cave art, believed to be the oldest yet discovered had been dated to over 64,000 years ago. Something sparked, and I knew I would be writing a poem…

View original post 601 more words


a post by the road to Craigowl


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A friend recently suggested that many of the things I make have something of the spirit of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi – had I had the term? I had, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant so I looked it up.

Wabi-sabi is a term rich with many layers of meaning, but could be summed up as an aesthetic celebrating the beauty in transience, impermanence, and imperfection. Well, yes, I thought, many of my photographs are about looking for beauty in moments embodying much of this.

I’ve been intending to do some more work with found audio for a while, and this post has a little sample. Ironically, it is just that – a post! In this case – a metal gate post beside the road up to Craigowl hill in the Sidlaws. I’ve often noticed that when the wind is in the right direction, this particular post has a lot to say. I suppose this is not surprising, the post is basically a meter high metal tube with a couple of holes placed rather like those on a flute.

As I set out on a windy afternoon to see if I could capture some of this sound, it did cross my mind that a slightly baleful, but (to my ears) resonant and interesting sound encountered only when the wind blows a certain way in a particular place in the middle of field usually occupied by at most some sheep or cattle was definitely a stab at finding a fairly transient and imperfect fragment of beauty: wabi-sabi.

Bashō on the Path to Hanging Bridge
by Hokusai

If there is a poet of the idea it must surely be the great seventeenth century traveller and haiku pioneer, Matsuo Bashō. A master whose work sometimes makes me think of photographic ways of seeing, although written long before the invention of photography.

The wind is mentioned often in Bashō’s haiku. Here is one to consider, with some alternative translations, perhaps while you listen the piece of sound I made (lower down) using the plaintive voice I heard calling from a post by the road to Craigowl.

 

蜘何と 音をなにと鳴 秋の風
Kumo nan to ne wo nani to naku aki no kaze
Matsuo Bashō

Spider, say again!
It’s so hard to hear your voice
in the autumn wind.

Spider, I say!
In what voice do you chirp?
An autumn wind
(Tr. Makoto Ueda)

Old spider! What is your 
song? How do you cry
to the autumn wind 
(Tr. Sam Hamill)

source: http://matsuobasho-wkd.blogspot.jp/

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More: A history of wabi-sabi (YouTube)

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