The last year, since closing my last blog, has been pretty challenging. Now creative work is moving forwards again, I have a few things to write about, and I’ve been having lots of fun with fire …
Been so busy – 50th birthday party in October, business collapsed in January, received notice on current home in February. All under control, and still finding time to make occasional stuff, though not really to write about it …
I did manage to revamp my website at www.dreamcraft.org.uk in December, but haven’t got round to telling many people about it yet!
Short snippet of video from my 50th
Somewhere in the Preselly Hills – I can’t say where, as I didn’t have a map – is a rock painting that nobody will ever see.
I haven’t done many of these, I think this is number 5 over a period of 17 years, and this is the first one I’ve made any effort to document. But each time I’ve done one, the experience has been intense. If Picasso was right, and the mere production of a painting is a magical event that, in itself, has an impact on the world around, then these must be filled with magic.
Each one of these has been accompanied by – or rather, been part of – a sacred rite.
First, the procession to the site.
The site itself is important: High places are better than low. Why? I don’t know, it just feels right that way. Maybe it’s to do with the sense of one’s insignificance in the cosmos. Rocky places are good, too (see blog entry below).
Seclusion is important, as well. Not the big peaks such as Snowdon or Cader Idris, which attract sometimes hundreds of visitors a day. Rather the smaller, or subsidiary peaks, reached along barely-trodden paths, where people only go by accident. Seclusion allows for privacy, and lessens the chances of desecration.
The places mustn’t be too accessible. The process of getting there must be some kind of pilgrimage or ordeal. A long walk, a steep scramble, a scary climb. A process that makes one acutely aware of the surroundings, and the fragility of life.
Time of day is important: These things feel better at twilight – dawn or dusk, though dusk is better as retracing one’s steps in the evening dusk is much easier than finding one’s way in the pre-dawn gloom. It’s a magical principle – things, places and times that are neither quite one thing nor the other. Makes it difficult to get over-bound in extraneous conscious thought processes.
The painting must be hidden. To leave it revealed to all-comers is to put a stamp of ownership on the place, which risks destruction. See blog entries and comments for 7th May and 9th May below. These paintings are sacred, so destruction would be desecration.
Fire is important, as is smoke (cf. Abel’s sacrifice in Genesis). However, too much fire or smoke would attract the unwelcome attentions of national park rangers. Just enough to burn some aromatic herbs, and accomplish any symbolic burning required by the task in hand – usually, for me, the burning of a pictogram or object(s) relevant to my life at the time. Kind of miniature rites of passage.
Sound/music is important too, as is movement/dance. For the first time I carried my Sax on my back to the sacred place. On previous occasions the basic sounds of banging rocks together or stamping on the ground have sufficed, but this time some tonal music felt important.
The first of these was made somewhere in Snowdonia in 1995 – again, I didn’t have a map. I painted on a loose rock which I placed in a natural pit. Visible, but only if somebody looked very closely.
The second was in 2001 in Cumbria. I painted on one small facet of a large boulder near the ground, and then constructed a little archway of small rocks to conceal it. The arch was fairly jumbled and didn’t stand out as humanly constructed.
The third was in 2003, again in Cumbria. This time I didn’t paint, but built a rock “oven” and lit a large fire inside. The rocks were subsequently smoke-stained, but I left them with the stained faces turned in against each other, thus invisible and more likely to endure a while.
For the fourth back to Snowdonia in 2007, a painting on a small rock hidden behind some gorse and heather (yes, it was prickly making it!).
Apart from the smoke-staining, I’ve done all of them with acrylic paints. I don’t know how long they last (though acrylics I’ve put out on the nature reserve behind my home have lasted 12 years and still going strong), or if anyone has ever found one.
In writing this I’m reminded of an artist who made fibreglass “boulders”, indistinguishable from real ones unless you try picking them up, that he left in rocky places in the Arizona Desert. But I can’t remember his name, nor find any reference on Google. I remember he also made prints or paintings of petrol stations on fire.
A downside of a split family is negotiating childcare while the kids are off school. Two and a half working days each week: Either put the children into childcare while I work, which more or less annihilates my income for the day; Or just stuff the work and enjoy the children. Whichever way, it’s a time of low earning and high expenditure.
I took the kids away for the first week of the hols, which happened also to be the sunniest week. Yippee! Lots of beaches, a couple of theme parks, and some splashy rocky scrambling in the river Dart.
In return, I got a whole week without the children at all. The sensible thing to do with the time would have been to work and make up some of the financial shortfall. The decadent thing to do would have been to take another whole week holiday, this time with my new partner. I did the decadent thing, and it was brilliant.
It’s 18 years since I last had more than a day doing my own thing – hill walking, sketching, painting, swimming, surfing, playing music, camping, more sketching and painting, and then a bit more hill walking. Fantastic.
It’s also 18 years since I last went on holiday with another artist. I’ve only actually had 5 holidays before with one or more artists, and they’ve all been brilliant. This 6th “holiday with an artist” was absoloutely as brilliant as the others.
Sketching and painting didn’t happen as much as hoped, mainly due to the wet weather. However, I’m pleased with what I did. I seemed to be drawn to the rocky places this time.
Piet Mondrian laboured to impart a sense of the spiritual. For him there was an underlying “invisible” fabric to the cosmos. As with many modernists, his was a vision that united science and religion, so the underlying fabric was Cartesian in nature – full of straight lines and right angles, squares and rectangles, predictable, rule-bound – but also filled with passionate colour. He found his vision reflected in the New Religion of Theosophy, to which he apparently devoted himself.
I have a similar vision of an underlying invisible fabric. However, for me it’s a lawless fabric, one of constant flow, often chaotic, and utterly unpredictable. It has no reason or explanation, and the very idea of a “Religion” runs counter to its nature. We’re all swept away by it, helpless, desperate to overlay a Mondrian-style gridlike explanation onto it, find a coherent set of ideas that can tame the spiritual wildness. However, for me, any such set of ideas is ultimately doomed as an inadequate and feeble grasping for a security which simply isn’t there.
I’m drawn to the rocks, as the gaps and cracks between them represent points of passage – gateways, thresholds – between the underworld and the overworld. Doorways between the invisible cosmic fabric and familiar waking “reality”. Sources of inspiration, places that the spirits come and go. Each rift and cleft a little sacred place. Each pile of rocks a natural temple in the wilderness.
My AXIS application was once more declined. This time I defied their statement that they won’t provide feedback, and emailed them with a plea for some kind of meaningful response. I was flattered to a receive a reply at all (tactfully sandwiched between thanks for applying):
“The curatorial panel could see from your detailed statement and photographic documentation that you are active and serious about developing your field of practice. But we are not convinced that Axis is the right promotional platform for you. At the moment we don’t receive enquiries or opportunities that are likely to be of relevance to you, and we would struggle to provide a suitable context for work that stands slightly outside our usual sphere of operation.”
Should I be flattered that a mainstream ACE-funded organisation implies that I work on the fringes … or should I be cross that a grassroots artist-led organisation fails to embrace the breadth of contemporary practice?
Did the conversation go along the lines of: “Well, he’s provided a detailed theoretical justification of his work OK, but we can’t possibly have these kinds of images on our website … what can we say?” … or did it go along the lines of “This work is utterly non-commercial, there are plenty of artists out there who can gain real benefit from the limited space on our site, we should devote that space to them”??
And then of course there are reactions such as “The opportunities and enquiries to the site will reflect the work that’s already there … is AXIS imprisoning itself in its own history? If different work was promoted, would different opportunities and enquiries be received?” Or is this just a tactful stock reply?
Well, I’m too old, too jaded and too short of time to delve further, or kick up any kind of fuss. Move on, and look for opportunities elsewhere.
One such opportunity is the “Sacred Arts” dance camp, which I just attended with the children. Last year I really enjoyed the week of basic living in a tent, cooking on a log fire, sharing ideas and experiences of sacred creativity, and meeting other artists and performers who have similar concerns. Last year I returned happy, inspired, full of hope and enthusiasm.
This year was not so good for me (though the kids had a ball – it’s a camp which devotes a lot of resources to children). The bad weather had a lot to do with it.
A lot of people on the camp were clearly failing to cope with the wet and the cold, and me and my partner ended up “rescuing” cold and hungry adults and children on several occasions.
But there’s a more fundamental problem, that was highlighted by the adverse conditions: an organisational ethos of “helpfulness, sharing and kindness” has attracted, over the years, more than its fair share of the helpless, selfish and unkind.
People who never learned, as children, how to share … and who bumble through their lonely lives bemused as to why nobody likes them, and who take refuge in the concept of a loving divinity.
From feeding apparently abandoned children, through verbal abuse for “not helping” (as I was already busy helping someone else at the time), to comforting crying strangers pouring out their hearts in the communal showers … it was more of a work-camp than a holiday, and I began to yearn for home, where I get paid for working for other people, rather than paying a rather substantial fee.
And then trying to cook for a circle of people whose dietary requirements spanned “Only cooked food” to “No cooked food”, and “only cook with coconut oil” to “coconut oil doesn’t agree with me”. Never mind the vegans (for spiritual reasons) and the wheat-free (crone’s disease and similar).
I have to admit to a certain envy of the 4 adults in our circle of 12 who were fed 6 evenings, but who neither cooked nor contributed any food, all week long.
It was a tendency I noticed at the last camp, that parents of children are expected to be parents of helpless adults too. As a fellow overstretched parent put it: “About a third of people here are actually competent and capable, the rest are either sad or mad”.
I will probably go again next year anyway. The punters are either my peers or my natural audience, so if it wasn’t for the bad weather and the consequent overwhelming workload, it would have been a great opportunity for promoting my work.
But like the AXIS refusal – deeply, intensely frustrating that I can’t access that opportunity … better weather next year, perhaps …