Colour has continued to play an important role in the work I’ve been making and I’ve become ever more conscious of the colours that surround me outside of the studio. The geography and landscape of the Isle of Arran and the Holy Isle made a big impact and strong visual memories of places in the western isles of Scotland have stayed with me since my summer visit. Located in the county of Ayrshire, the district where my late Father was born and raised, the surrounding countryside is very familiar to me. It has its own unique colours – the rich brown, peaty soil, the rough, scratchy purple heather, the fresh, lush green of the ferns in the lower glens, the rust-coloured water of the burns – the grey granite rocks.
I visited Little Sparta, the garden of the late artist/sculptor/poet Ian Hamilton Finlay as well, while I was staying with family in Edinburgh. Despite it being less wild and natural than I’d anticipated (and hoped), it’s still a special place – aesthetically beautiful, with wise, pertinent and humorous comments on social & cultural issues inscribed on the various structures and sculptures placed around the extensive grounds. Everything is carefully and strategically placed, colours carefully chosen.
In complete contrast to my summer trip to Scotland, I was in the flat fenland area of Cambridgeshire a month or so ago, staying in Cambridge with a close friend. It’s another place I feel attached to and is closely associated with my Dad as it’s the area he and my Mum returned to from Scotland, my brother and sister in tow – primarily, in search of work. It’s my Mum’s home area – the place where my parents settled for a large part of their married life.
And it’s also of course, the county in which I was born and raised, a stone’s throw from my Nana’s home – a place that was very familiar to me and which has had a big influence on my creative practice. The Fabric of Life, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow and Nana’s Colours are bodies of work that have developed as a direct result of using various raw materials gathered together from my Nana’s house when, after some seventy years, her failing health meant she had to leave it.
I visited Jim & Helen Ede’s house in Kettle’s Yard during my visit to Cambridge, another place well known to me and one which I’ve visited on numerous occasions over the years; the house, its architecture and the amazing art, objects and furniture inside it, continues to be one of the most inspirational places I know. The city was looking as lovely as ever, too – beautiful contrasting colours, from the vibrant, autumnal colours of foliage on the trees and the late flowering plants in the University’s botanic gardens, to the quiet, muted tones of paintings, furniture and objects of the Ede’s beautifully curated home.
Issam Kourbaj’s work, Unearthed (In Memoriam) in the small neighbouring church provided yet another amazing array of bold and contrasting colours. It’s a poignant installation, informed by current events in Syria, the artist’s home country – a response to the ongoing violence and huge number of casualties. Issam Kourbaj has lived in Cambridge since 1989 and has been artist in residence at Christ’s College for many years. I was really moved by the installation – old hardback book covers placed side by side on the stone floor of the ancient church – some painted with white or coloured paint. Black lines were painted across a lot of them, a representation of the black ribbons placed over the photographs of the recently deceased in Syria.
As well as the impact that it had on me, especially in light of the continuing tragedy in Syria, Issam Kourbaj’s exhibition also made me think of my own very different roots. Where I come from has always remained important to me. There has been a strong sense of re-visiting childhood haunts this past few months – nostalgic, childhood spaces, full of memories – places that were significant to me then, and have continued to be at various points in my life since, for all sorts of reasons.
I’ve been wondering about how much this all ties in with the sorting – albeit at a subconscious level, how much the re-finding objects associated with my own past and with that of late loved ones has steered me towards wanting to go back to certain places – to exorcise certain ghosts, perhaps – to lay certain things to rest? For whatever reasons, I felt a real longing to go back to these places this year and I’m glad that I did.
Nostalgia, like grief and mourning, is about loss. How we respond to that loss determines whether we move forward or remain stuck. But that I think, is a subject for another post …