Having moved to the very tip of Cornwall I have come to understand the power exerted by the sea. West Penwith is surrounded by a vast timeless substance that is so much more than just a liquid pushed by tides. The scale and the draw of the sea makes everyday concerns seem futile.

 

My experience of the sea and to some extent the moors hereabouts is that I am thrown into the present moment more and more by walking and exploring the cliffs and the ancient footpaths. When I walk in sight of the sea or over the moors, I don’t slip into reminiscence or worry about future events, I am forced to be in the moment, simply because there is so much to see and to feel. At the night seeing the sky peppered with a million stars the same feelings come over me as I’m made aware of how tiny and short lived I am in respect to the vastness of time and space.

 

Not just the seasons, but also each day brings novelty of light and atmosphere. The wind and rain come hard in across the Atlantic in squalls, and like a piece of music that hooks you in and makes you just feel, you react because at that moment there seems to be nothing else to be done.


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A friend posted the shipping forecast on Facebook. No explanation just the pressure, wind direction and visibility. I realised how much more it meant to me now, as a virtual island dweller, down the pointy end of Cornwall. When the wind comes in off the bay from the South west there is one particular place on the harbour arm which is almost impossible to walk along due to the force of restricted air. A northerly brings wind and rain to the front of our house and one sash window rattles it’s disapproval. Cold fronts announce themselves down stairs in our house by chilling the air around the back door. Mizzle (mixture of mist and rain and low cloud) drifts across from the high ground above Penzance dulling the horizon then the end of the street. Everywhere has weather but here it controls my day more closely and when there is high pressure and the wind drops in June, as it did today, we get 3 days in one. Combined with my new attention to ‘Deep work’ concentration, painting, framing, collage and a swim all fell into place.


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Today I let improvisation control my morning walk. I needed a plant for a friends birthday, a look at an old wooden trawler, which is  about to be broken up, and some exercise mixed with a bit of freedom from grant applications. Walking, especially here in Penzance, with the sea an ever present kinetic force, takes me quickly to an appreciation of the strange beauty of the world. The beaches throw up bits of old plastic and rope, weathered and aged into new forms.

On my way back from Newly harbour, where ‘The Excellent’ lies ready for low tide and cutting gear, I went into the art gallery to see ‘What is this place?’ paintings curated by Blair Todd. The work here has been selected because of its spontaneity, something I often fail to incorporate into my process. But failure is all about in this show and I mean that in a good way. None of the artists here are afraid to paint for paintings sake and to make gesture and subject matter more important than accuracy and perfection. They all have an energy as a result, which elevates the subject matter and the final painting. I particularly loved Corinna Spencer’s multiple portraits all morphing and glaring in a slurred manner. Sam Bassett always manages the tightrope between collapse and structure expertly and here there are some fine examples of his mix of graphic shorthand, colour and pathos. Lucy Stein using ideas around ritual and the occultish undertones of West Penwith, hits the mark too. So if you want to improvise, get along to the show £2 and on till the 15th of July.


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There isn’t any a situation that is needier in our contemporary society than our relationship with the other species on this planet. Our intolerance and maltreatment of ‘others’ be they human ‘others’ or animal ‘others’ is the single most important question to engage with. I feel that we are entering the age of responsibility, towards animals, other humans and the environment.  Artists are well placed to lead on this. We are able to set out a field of interest within our practice and start a dialogue. When we divorce ourselves from a political agenda and initiate a space in which we can discuss and debate the future, then we can change the status quo.

We must divorce ourselves from an unhealthy obsession with the dystopian viewpoint.

 

I grew up eating meat and not questioning it, it was only when I attended polytechnic in London in the 80s, that I met a vegetarian. Addressed with the question ‘Could you kill an animal to eat it?’ I realised that I could not, so I changed my behaviour accordingly.

 

Was the question part of an artwork? No, but it was the result of an experiment in alternative living, in part, grown out of art schools. I met and befriended older people, two of whom lived in what I will call ‘hippie’ communes. Amongst their number were vegetarians, gay men and women, animal lovers and recreational drug users. I could tell you that theirs was an art movement, but it was more than that, it was a way of living propelled by the art schools of the 50s and 60s, because most of the commune inhabitants had attended art school or had lived with art students and discussed the idea of sustainable living, the planets future, gay and animal rights.

 

I could have reacted in many ways to this question. I had come from a right of center small c conservative home counties background. My pier group were capitalist by birth and my parents certainly voted Tory all their lives. I had no term of reference as to my responsibilities as a member of an inter connected multiracial society. I was looking after number one both economically and morally.

 

But now I have to go back to a time before I left home, when art (although I didn’t know what it was) first impacted on me. I started to read the NME, I had found a copy at the newsagents where my brother worked, I started to get interested in music and youth culture I didn’t understand a lot of the references in the articles about the ‘new wave’, but I knew that the music was exciting, John Peel’s show was an amazing discovery and then the Sex Pistols bought out ‘Never mind the bollocks’ and I sent off for it through the small ads in the back of the NME. Once I had played that record I was never quite the same, and now I know it was the situationalist Malcom McLaren’s strange plane to disrupt the plastic and mediocre slush of the music business, that called to me. That feeling that what I did could change things was now inside me, although I took many years to realise it.

 

Strange that in the end when I went as a mature student I attended Chelsea college of art and design, just as McLaren had in the early 60s, I learnt to throw everything up in the air and question once more what I considered to be Fine Art, and the rest of my life.

The lifelong subject matter for my practice was forged at Chelsea, but those early experiences of compassion for animals and the ‘others’ in society was firmly in place already.

 

So I can see now how art schools and their ex-students have bought questions to my door and exacted a response from me. This is so important, at this time we are able to see so much more evidence of animal abuse, human abuse and degradation of the environment, that no longer can we say, hand on heart, that we can’t make a difference by changing our behavior.

 

I will concentrate on animals, which is my area of interest. The proliferation of animal based video clips on Facebook, and their huge popularity is a sign that we are all motivated strongly by animals, their plight and their behaviour. I predict that more people will be at least exposed to the idea that changing your diet has an effect on animals and the environment, even if they don’t change their habits. The internet although not an art movement is a space similar to the noncommercial art world, where people make and show and discuss ideas and strategies without censorship or quality control. This can lead to inaccuracy, but more importantly, anyone can think, write, express themselves, rant, like, share, comment. All of this is a good first step on the road to finding a new and positive future.


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I had a free lesson in the Cornish language or Kernowek today as part of a week long festival in Penzance. I learnt that English only slowly made its way down through Cornwall and reached Penzance and the surrounding West Penwith peninsular, with the last traditional speaker dying in 1891, although this is disputed. So the sea and the isolation of this peninsular helped to stem the take over of a colonial language and as it was not often written down, many speakers lived in rural isolation and passed their language on without leaving a record. Generally there is no one way to spell and pronounce Kernowek and not a word for yes and no, instead conversations go thus ‘Do you have thirst with you?’ ‘I do not have thirst’ so leading to allowance for repetition alliteration and humour to enter the conversation, also it makes it easier to learn if you are dyslexic like me. I am fascinated by the idea that a language that is not so written down is stronger as it can change to make new and funny words from modern phenomenon, Mobile phone or Klappkodh (Chatter pod)

Duw genowgh (goodbye)

Meur ras dhe’n mor (thanks to the sea)

PS This blog is entirely my own take on Kernowek and so is mostly whimsical and the Kernowek is entirely my own flawed work.


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I got a call from my brother to say that our mother was in hospital neat Luton, and not too well. She is 94 now, and with pneumonia having had a hip replacement, a long away from the sea, me and West Penwith. She was much more present than she had been for my last few visits with her. We are gently loosing her to dementia, but something in the hospital treatment brought her back to us for a few hours. I spent time with her and as she slept I made some drawings. I have thought long and hard about whether it is OK or not to share these images, but I have decided that I want to. I hope they are seen a celebration of a life well lived and not seen as negative. There is a chance that she may come and live in a nursing home in Penzance, where I would be able to go and see her when I want, which will be good for us both.


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