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.
Today at the beach high tide line I rediscovered an idea. 45 years ago I launched a toy yacht on a pond on Wimbledon common. Attached to the keel was a torpedo shaped, battery powered propellor, somewhere in the middle of the pond it fell off and the yacht, now under wind power, returned to shore.
Today I found a propellor, although in different colours mine was blue and white, and an idea, a recurring idea accompanying that object, that I remember feeling when I was 10. That life is not linear, but circular. As unaware as we are as children we do have an innate understanding that things come around, again and again in life, ideas, skills, smells, chances, choices, animals, friends. We want to look and explore and find and see everything. Somewhere along the ‘line’ we have been persuaded that life is linear and all the poorer for that flat earth capitalist based idea.
Having vowed to search and explore, as a result of my ‘Best Year Yet’ session over the mid winter break, a visit to the Medieval quay in Newlyn was inevitable. A favourite haunt of mine, the stony beach there throws up such a variety of ‘finds’ all of which are useful beautiful or recycled, so as to decontaminate this fragile marine environment. Brass and copper boat nails and fittings from all ages, as boats have been built mended and dismantled here for a long while, litter the place.
This cold but bright winter’s day, accompanied by a flock of Turnstones and storm tides I searched. Finding quite soon what looks like an artists paint tube. Later thinking that it would be good, via a Google search, to research this, I stopped myself and instead simply imagined a Victorian painter with cold fingers easel slipping on the stones cursing the wind struggling to capture the light on the water. The power of making things up, daydreaming is strong and only a cursory glance through Bachelard’s, ‘The poetics of space’ reminds us of this time slowing magical world we can all access whenever we want. Facts and research have their place, but give me a daydream and I’m happy.
A proper break from the anchor of art, a whole month, August, and being with the one I love, walking, camping, exploring. This was not really planned so it took some adjustment from work mode. When you are lucky enough to be able to create every day and to be sustained by that, it is hard to untangle yourself from that gorgeous embrace.
Conquering a fear of sea sickness, I took a deep breath, some pills and managed to brave the crossing to the Isles of Scilly. The weather was kind, but the ocean swell off Lands End still made itself known especially on the return, when it rolls the ferry corkscrewing through the cold blue Gannett skewered sea.
My mother finally succumbed to pneumonia, in a nursing home. She had been slowly drifting away from us due to dementia for a number of years, so an initial feeling of relief has given way to vivid dreams of her and moments of grief. She was 94 and had a full life despite battles with depression and insomnia, maybe now I am more at sea, but I like the feeling.
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.
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.