Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Lizzie Cannon, who has just started an artist blog on a-n too. I met her at her beautiful show “Liminal Matter” which is currently on at Greenwich University. We were engaged in an artist crit. and one of the things we talked about was the process of creating as a resistance to mortality.
During the summer I had the chance to go to Pech Merle caves in the south of France and see the work of artists who lived 25,000 years BC. You are prohibited from taking photographs in the caves for obvious reasons, so the image from inside the cave I have here is from their postcards.
The pigments used include manganese black and ochres.
I always get a frisson from seeing a work of art I have met before in art history books, but the feelings I had here were beyond that. To stand in front of the work of people from so many thousands of years ago, the first humans, and know that they too looked at their environment and felt the need to create images reaffirms me and my understading of the universality of humanity.
The caves here are already painted by nature, the natural pigments seep about of the limestone and create gorgeous shades of colour across the surfaces. I don’t know whether these sites had religious significance, or if that theory comes from the fact that third person to see them, and the first adult, was a curate. What I do know is that just as now the people who went into the caves were inspired by its intrinsic beauty and used what was there to build their own additional images. And the size of the hands in the hand stencilling shows that the artists were both men and women. The images appear to be those of different artists over time, some more abstract than others, some painted like those above and some etched into pigment covered limestone surface. Some deliberate, and some accidental like the fossilised child’s footprint.
So to make that link with the artists I decided to retrieve some of my own pigment….
sand pigment mix dug up from Paul’s building site
filtering the sand from the ochre pigment, the pigment is soluble, the sand is not, and the pigment is in smaller particles so a process of dissolving and filtering then drying
dried in the sun, the filtered ochre
So while I was in the region I experimented with extracting my own ochre from the soil. Well, actually from my bother’s place, so when I used this particular shade of ochre I will be calling it Paul’s ochre. My brother is in the process of rebuilding a ruined building in the Lot, and one of the techniques used locally is to mix ochre laden sand into the grout in order to for the grout to closely match the stone.
My Paul’s ochre next to Sennelier French ochre,
mine is alot greener and darker .
So I had a go at extracting the ochre from the sand, I still have a final filtering to go as I think there is residual fine sand particles remaining, but the process was incredibly satisfying.
It is possible to see the pigments seeping put of the rocks wherever the limestone has been cut, these same pigments that were used at Pech Merle and the other local cave art sites. Next year I hope to collect some of the darker reds. And I intend to play with heating some of this to see if I can get the transformation to red and darker.
Sarah Needham will be at Roy’s People Art Fair this weekend 14-17th September and she will be happy to talk to you about her experiments in colour.