July 2016 Places I have been before
This month has been a whirlwind of both physical and mental activity and I have frequently lost all sense of what day it is. Time is charging towards the beginning of September when, for the first time, I will be taking part in Perthshire Open Studios. Such events imbue all art making with a sense that everything should be sorted out now and not for the first time I wish I was an organised person.
I have been tangling again with watercolour outside in the landscape down by the River Ericht at Brooklinn Mill on Oakbank Road and in Craighall Gorge, I find the results tantalisingly not what I want them to be. I look, I draw, I paint and still the marks escape me. . .sometimes they are almost there and then I look again and they have gone. Yesterday I went to see Joseph Beuys’ Artists Room in the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh and one of his sentences was printed high on the gallery wall . . .
‘The expanded concept of art says that the inner eye is much more important than the external images’
. . . I do not know where the quote used was taken from but it does explain to me why whatever I draw or sculpt or paint does not fully communicate what I am trying to communicate even to myself. Does it matter to me whether the people who see the art I make understand that this gap exists for me? I don’t think so . . . I can’t control (I wouldn’t want to )what any observer sees or thinks or understands about whatever art I show.
It is more important to me to be able to keep chasing drawing, or searching for how to, or experimenting with, to see if. . . it is . . . yes, because it is my way of making and remaking reality, of working towards understanding what I perceive and feel – the emotion cannot be detached from the intellect and so now I understand that when I look at the marks I have made, whatever they consist of, there will always be a space between what is there on the page/wood/clay/and what I am thinking.
I have the greatest respect for Joseph Beuys and his work. I know that many people find his work impenetrable and I know that many people do not.
On the last day of July I went to Glen Beanie in Angus with other artists from Perthshire Visual Arts Forum to take part in a walk led by George Logan. I had been on last year’s walk and thoroughly enjoyed it so it was a done deal that I would go this year too. Last year participating artists had been given small concertina sketchbooks to draw/mark in and the resulting creations were shown at PVAF’s Exhibition and AGM in Birnam Arts by Dunkeld. This year we were given 10 blank postcards and asked to use black (pencil, ink or paint) and one other colour to respond to the landscape. We were to choose one of the resulting drawings and send it as a postcard to someone, whoever we liked. We were given a ball of red wool and a red apple. The apple was not to be eaten and was to be left behind somewhere in the glen as a gift. The wool was to create a temporary artwork which would be documented and then removed.
Glen Beanie has been chosen in 2015 and 2016 because of its folds and sheilings where people took the cattle in summer and stayed with them while they were fattened on the lush green plants. People have been coming here for over 800 years and the only marks of their presence is tumbledown walls recording where they have slept. Other structures are not so easily identified, one wall encloses a deep pit – a refuge? a foodstore? a prison?
George began the walk this year by reading the following passage from The day of judgement by Salvatore Satta (published posthumously 1977)
‘ could I be wasting my time (and these indeed my last few years) in bestowing some substance on people who never had any, and could never have had any, who cannot be of interest to anyone, since their very existence dwindles down to a birth certificate and a death certificate? I have suffered terribly because of the sudden void that has formed around me. There is not the least doubt that Piettro Catte in the abstract has no reality, any more than any other man on the face of the earth. But the fact remains that he was born and that he died, as those irrefutable certificates prove. And this endows him reality in actual fact, because birth and death are the two moments at which the infinite become finite; and the infinite can have no being except through the finite. Piettro Catte attempted to escape from reality by hanging himself on that tree at Biscollai, but his was a vain hope, because one cannot erase one’s own birth. This is why I say that Piettro Catte, like all the hapless characters in this story, is important, and ought to be interesting to everyone: if he does not exist, then none of us exist.’
Apart from the tumbled stones and hut circles there are no records of the people who came here each summer, there are no birth or death certificates to find and read and marvel over, yet we know there were lives lived and played out here. The day was overcast and when the wind was blowing it was so cold, I was glad of my two hoods and layered modern clothing waterproof trousers and the flask of hot coffee in my knapsack. Summer here can be glorious, in my mind’s eye I saw children and women (for the men stayed down in the settlements) happy and glad working in the sunshine. The reality was more likely to be hard labour, mostly wet and cold with hunger and illness stalking each day – a constant reminder of what subsistence farming can mean. For more about this history and the reason that George is interested in the gap between the privileged few and the unprivileged many see his website.
Drawings from the walking in the landscape
It is true that stones last longer than drawings (apart from in the childrens’ game ‘rock paper scissors’)and so in the end Glen Beanie’s evidence of past people may be here long after our culture’s reliance on objects which have no lasting presence – I cannot access the images on my i mac’s old hard drive and any future culture may not have the means to access our creativity.
Each of us made a temporary work with the wool then took it away. For everyone else’s ‘knitting’ keep an eye on PVAF’s website.
Modern people in ancient landscape
Last but not least we’re hoping to have a preview of work from some of the artists on Perthshire Open Studios Orange Route at Blairgowrie’s new art and craft venue Create @ Nest in Reform Street. . .more news later this month.