The children were small so a long time ago, I opened the top drawer of the yellow wood chest where we kept important papers, passports, things like that and saw a heap of pages covered in Peter’s inimitable left-handed script. I started reading and it became clear right away that these were Peter’s memories of childhood. I had no idea that he had even started on such a project.
“When did you write this?” I asked him waving the papers in the air’
“What do you think I do after you got to bed every night at nine,” he answered.
Ah, the days before television.
Here is an excerpt describing something he witnessed while on one of the many family holidays to Coffee Bay in the ( then) Transkei.
We were rained in.
Once my father put chains on the wheels and we went to see a recent shipwreck. After getting out to walk after the cars along the road, we came to the hills and slid and glided onto a narrow track. I saw my father’s hands go thump, thump, thump on the steering wheel as we sailed first this way then that. Eventually the track with its hump of folding grass in the middle ended just short of the steep descent to the rocks below. A huge freighter lay against the shore and a cable ran down the hill at an impossible angle straight into an enormous gaping hole in her black side. The hilltop grass gave way to thick bush which almost ended in the sea and a great gauge of red mud marked the track up which salvage attempts had been made to drag things up the hill. The rain stopped.
There was a big sea running, and under the soft grey clouds the rain washed air produced a light of glowing colours and the muting of all but the most ferocious growls from the sea and only served to heighten the colour of the great blue and green swells pounding the black hull and sending great sheets of spray hundreds of feet into the air to smash into the white superstructure and flowing back in rivers and waterfalls to form long trails of white foam drifting back out into the deep blue water. Then it began to rain again and everything disappeared.
As the first year anniversary of my husband’s death looms in a week or so, I am forcing myself to pick up on a website and blog that lay frozen for longer than a year and let you in. The coronavirus and the lockdown has (personally) proved to be a minor inconvenience compared to Peter’s loss but it has not helped in a period of darkness and immense sadness. I have posted on the website a collection of poems that were my only form of expression for months now under the heading POEMS. I was going to add a photo of Peter to this post but to look him in the eye is still too painful. Maybe in the future.
Painting is like being on a see-saw except there is no one on the other side. You have to do that awkward, near-impossible thing of running from one end to the other in between the up-downs and somehow still enjoy the ride!
And the two sides – what are they? Well, actually it is a multi-dimensional see-saw, if you can imagine one, so many factors are there to balance. There are the universal twins that come with making images – complex-simple; loose-tight; flat-volumetric and a myriad more that constitute the language of art. In addition, each artist has his or her own particular and often peculiar concerns where they find themselves up or down or half way up in cycles of discovery and rediscovery over the years.
Here is the story of my ride – I prefer it to using that overused word ‘journey’. I have crept slowly via my last two exhibitions from the safe shallows of children’s book illustration (a genre in which I spent much of my working life) to return to my first love, fine art painting. And here, finally, there has been a radical increase of scale. Overhearing a chance comment at the opening of NOOSPHERIC NIGHTS about how small the works were in real life, was all the challenge I needed. Without really seeing it, I had been working in that cramped small scale of the printed page. Time to break free.
In the making, there were those ‘aha’ moments where I came to realise that what initially looked brand new was in fact very old ideas in a new form. I am re-meeting past friends, archetypes that have haunted me from my youth: vertical ladders and horizontal streams of strewn stuff. Now they emerge clothed with newish content – the eclectic objects I have been painting for a while now. Even the limited colour range in 2 ACRES AND A DONKEY has its antecedent in a small lost student work which reflected my attraction to the colour of American trash bags of the time.
My two great loves, Philip Guston and Giorgio Morandi, are thick-paint artists, yet I am increasingly accepting that I am more at home with thin paint. Here and there I can slap it on but my start in this late career spurt of art making, was in water colour and ink. Thin washes of ink and acrylic applied with a mop or a three-haired artist’s brush and everything in between is where I am at present. Slowly I venture into adding oil paint to the mix, impregnating my cloth with rabbit-skin glue to prevent the oil rotting the support.
I rock between euphoria and self-doubt, light and dark, thick and thin, refined and brutal, words and images, leading the painting and allowing it to lead me. An important aspect of my work is unifying drawing and painting. This is allied to the greatest conundrum facing a painter in the process of riding his or her painting home – when is the work finished? The paintings exhibited here are deliberately on the uncooked side – pink lamb, pasta al dente. They are a reaction to a memory I carry of art school where under the tutelage of our lecturers, fresh, spontaneous underpainting was covered in great slabs of coloured-in paint, inevitably killing off any love I had for the work in the process. I remember once tossing a still-life out of the 2nd floor studio window at Wits in a fit of disgust.
Does it sound like self-justification to link the lack of finish in these works to the fact that they are ultimately ideas –rather tenuous ideas at that – and not renditions of the real world? WE1, WE11 AND WE111 are self-portraits. They arise as a response to the gender lobbyists who would like to change the pronouns we use for them from ‘he’ or ‘she’ to the non-binary ’they’ or ‘we’. My riposte is that everybody is a ‘we’ rather than a ‘me’. 2 ACRES AND A DONKEY is also a type of self-portrait. It is a portrayal of the process of unimpeded thinking /dreaming and the dross and occasional insight that comes to us when we are in this flowing state.
Stream of consciousness? Perhaps. The 7 meters can translate into 2 acres but where is the donkey?
WE 3, 2 ACRES AND A DONKEY
Coming soon…………watch this space
Here’s one of the images WE 111 ( 1.5 meters wide by 2 meters high)
We are on our way to the Philippines!
Actually 3 Ps!
Hanging up to view, ’2 Acres and a Donkey’, a painting/drawing 5 meters long by 1 and a half high. Ink, acrylic, rabbit skin glue and oils on cloth.
Adding colour to another depressing but strangely satisfyingly shaped haul of washed-up trash. Why I like these battered shapes…something lodging in the primitive brain, I suspect. Perhaps a kind of gestalt. I move closer and closer to the two greats in my pantheon: Morandi and Guston. I have come to them from the side like a crab. A frontal appropriation has always failed by sending me into a withering and drying up. How can I possibly compare the muddy puddle on my paper before me with their masterpieces? Now in the beach trash on which I concentrate they are two specks, blurs in either corner of my eye, right and left. I could describe them as ghostly attendants but best to ignore them and let the wordless drawing process itself usher me in. I read somewhere this weekend that the self can only be found in those moments when you pay attention to this rather than that i.e. in the choice one makes among the myriad sensations flooding the brain at any single moment. I think drawing/ painting/ writing helps to solidify self because one is in a trance of choosing and choosing. That is why it feels so good (most of the time).