Break-your-heart-blue: A Virtual Walk on the Copper Coast

I am currently working on a book of illustrated essays from this blog. In the meantime here’s an old post.IMG_0501

It is beautiful today, though there is a cold wind from the west. The light is rich and honeyed, the waters of the bay an intense blue. It is the kind of blue that reminds me of the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh, which is visible from so many parts of that beautiful city. It is the blue of Cezanne’s Mediterranean at L’Estaque on the aptly named Cote d’Azur. So dense a blue, I can feel it resonating in my chest; a break-your-heart blue, vibrant and intense.

L'ESTAQUE WITH RED ROOFS(PAUL CEZANNE)
L’Estaque with red roofs (Paul Cezanne)

Up the dusty road, daffodils nod on the ditch towards the T-Junction watched over by big bellied pine trees. Rockett’s Bar (now closed) is up to the left, while the bright ochre beach and dunes are visible, for a while at least, to the right until the road drops past the big yellow field to bend and turn north towards the town.

DAFFS SMAn Anvil Head cloud has risen to the south. It is a cloud that occurs when cold air rises until it meets warm air and then spreads out to form the shape of an anvil. In the sun on an ivy covered wall, two cats sit facing each other, as if in deep conversation.

PALS
PALS

The road towards the town passes Newtown House where the crows carrying sticks are wheeling through the blue sky crazy-paved with the twisted branches of squiggly trees. Further on the apple blossoms delicately kiss the sky.

BLOSSOMS
BLOSSOMS
TREE
TREE

Descending Newtown Hill I pass a plump collared dove perched on a wire. At the bottom of the hill I turn left onto the Cliff Road which runs along the west side of the bay to Newtown Cove & the Guillamene, a mecca for swimmers all year around. The rocks on this side of the bay, empty now, are often dotted with people fishing for mackerel in the early autumn.

MACKEREL TIME (1)
Fresh Mackerel

Swerving past the entrance to the cove’s car park, the road curves up into Newtown Woods, a steep sided ravine of decrepit decidusous trees that shelters owls and pigeons. Here the new ferns glow between the shadows that also ladder the footpath which is edged with the mush of last years leaves.

Today, as every day, at every step of the way, something catches the attention, from my own shadow, to a twist of ivy root, to a familiar and much-loved stump (much-loved by me that is. I know it’s weird to love stumps). Everywhere there are possible paintings, photographs, drawings:striped shadows on a barn wall, a road sign, trees that look like a dancing couple, a sunlit path descending into dark undergrowth, an ivy covered fence post.

BARN AND MOON
BARN AND MOON

Emerging from the woods, I turn towards home and the landscape opens out again. The dusty road is lined by fields and an occasional house. The Metal Man and his pillars dominate the landscape here but the rusty cows pay him no heed as they amble in the gorsey, rocky fields. As I pass the familiar bank of rattling reed stems and walk up towards the setting sun, the sea to my left, is still blue but the waxing moon is rising towards the coming night.STUMP

IVY AND THE MOON
IVY AND THE MOON

Nature at Work

This is a post from 2014 but I thought it might be useful now…

I work long shifts in a factory in an industrial estate. During the time I am at work I sometimes think of my real self as being switched off. I knuckle down, my focus narrows, I apply myself to the job at hand. If I didn’t do this I fear I might spend the whole time sobbing.

It’s not that it’s a bad place to work. The conditions are very good and I consider myself lucky but being in a bright indoor place pounding with noise, working hard and staying focussed on a nuanced but repetitive job among metal moving parts can seem like an unending assault on all the fraying senses.

I take my breaks outside in my car and it is this that redeems me. For the most part I bury myself in one of the books I am reading, escaping into another world. At other times I am so drained that I sit and look out the window slack-jawed if not actually dribbling.

The other day in the scrub at the bonnet of my car a flash of red caught my eye. A Bullfinch and his lady were flitting about chirping to each other and disappearing occasionally into the ivy cover of a tree trunk. I don’t think I have ever seen a Bullfinch though they are common and I was captivated by the jet black of the males cap and the striking red of his breast deeper and more crimson than the Robins.BULLFINCH SM

Above them a Blackbird bobbed, tail fanning out for balance while a portly Wood Pigeon bowed on a branch and another Pigeon, his intended victim I suppose, fled the cover of the trees to fly across the tarmac closely followed by the suitor. They passed over one of the local Magpies who often patrol the car park and a Hooded Crow that I could see marching around in my rear view mirror. The starlings criss-crossed the sky. It made me remember all the other welcome intrusions of nature that have captivated me in this unlikely place.

The building where I work is low and slightly sunken below the car park. There are two fish ponds at either of its main entrances which were, until recently at least, stocked with fish:orange and piebald and one which looked like it had its brain on the outside which tickled me. FISH SM

The fish attracted a Heron of course. I saw it on the roof once, its still silhouette tacked to the roof by its needle like legs, head in profile, beady eye pointed down. In recent times the fish seem to have finally disappeared along with the foliage that protected them.HERON SM

There are Cherry Blossom trees, now blooming, and an Apple tree among the trees and shrubs planted on the trim grassy slope beside the steps between the building and the big car park which spreads out from the plant~there are three or four car parks in fact~and is edged with high hedges and saplings. Beyond the farthest kerb a scrub land stretches to the nearest road lined with its car dealerships and hotels.APPLES SM

Big bellied conifers, tall, frowning and dark, shimmy and shake in the wind over the road leading up to the car park. With a moody grey sky behind them they are imposing. If they sang~and I often imagine they are singing~ they would be baritones, those baddies of the operas, their song low and deep rumbling up from their roots as they elbow and jostle each other.TREES SM

At certain times of year the car park is alive with birdsong the whole night through, the birds who nest in the trees and hedges being fooled by the lights into thinking the dawn is arriving. It sounds not unlike what a jungle must sound like. I imagine the birds exhausted and slumped in their nests by afternoon the next day feeling like they have just drunk a slab of Strongbow cider and wondering why the night seems so short.

A Fox roams here at night, trotting from one side of the car park to the other, stopping sometimes when he senses someone is watching, then resuming his unhurried journey past chrome bumpers that reflect the street lights and down concrete paths and trimmed grass and back into the night.

The day after I saw the Bullfinch a Rabbit hopped out of the hedge and began digging around a couple of feet from the car. Occasionally it paused to look about then after five minutes or so it lolloped slowly under the hedge and into the field beyond where cows grazing showed in rusty patches through the branches.

BUNNY SM

My colleagues teased me after my break for being so pleased to see a bunny and I felt a little silly. A Rabbit along with a Bullfinch, a romantic Pigeon, a Heron, a Fox, a Magpie, a Hooded Crow and some singing trees are little enough to be happy about but it reminds me of who I am, reminds me that I am alive and in the world.

Though I like the countryside and the cliffs and the sea I am quite captivated by the urban environment, by concrete and brick, by straight lines and right angles, by the contrast between organic and inorganic, by weed pushing up through the kerb stones, by the wildlife that pops up everywhere.

In the dark of the long night when the exhaustion is upon me, when life feels as if is being suffocated in stainless steel and noise and the smell of nothing at all, when I look out into the night speckled with the jewel-like street lamps reflected in the shivering drops on my windscreen the faint aroma of wet earth in my nostrils and see a silent silhouette pause in a pool of acid orange light nose to the breeze before slipping from the shining path back into the dark I can remember how big the world is and all the mystery that pours unceasingly from its hands and I can breathe again.FOX SM

Image of the Week: Flash Ferns

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I took this on an evening walk by the sea. I rarely use the flash but as it was getting darker I decided to mess around with it. Once before in the full dark I took photos of trees with a flash and they came out really well, very dramatic and scary. But this time I only had the zoom lens on the camera and it wasn’t dark. Still I was pleased with the result. The zoom has flattened the picture plane and the flash combined with the slow shutter speed and me moving a little has created a drop shadow. I really like ochre and blues together too. I am not sure if I will ever use this ‘technique’ for anything but its worth making a note of. Here’s the same ferns minus flash.

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Image of the Week: Soft Looking

DSC06082I really enjoy taking snaps in city as I walk to and from work. The practice originated with my use of a camera as a notebook for references for colour, textures and shapes when I was painting. Sometimes I would even replicate the photos in paint but that started to seem a bit pointless and I began to appreciate the images for themselves. More recently I started sharing them on Instagram in lieu of posting images of my work as the way the image of the artwork is becoming more important than the artwork itself makes me uncomfortable. You can photograph just about anything and make it look good or interesting. It’s common to see a photo of a painting and likeit and then see the real thing and find that it is a disappointment. Or at least different. Think Pollock, whose visceral experiential canvasses are reduced to mere srcibbles on the page or Kahlo’s underwhelming paintings which are often smaller than their striking print reproductions. This is not to say Kahlo’s paintings are rubbish but their photogenic qualities can distract and divert from their real qualities. On a more general level the rise of the image of the artwork might also mean the rise of poor quality, shallow, artwork. After all, all you have to do is make something that looks OK from a certain angle or up close or in a certain light. Even good artists can get seduced by the image of their own work, can get lazy. Perhaps we are seeing not only the outsourcing of our memory to the internet but our culture too.

As I want my work to be experienced I try to avoid posting images of it, though sometimes I cannot resist. I am not free of ego-stuff. I still want the attention social media gives. So I post random snapshots and this posting has caused me to deconstruct my looking and looking is not as easy as it seems. As soon as I begin to walk with the specific intention of taking a photograph of something ‘interesting’ I can’t seem to see anything. If I force it the resulting snaps look engineered or trite. So, there is a way of looking that is not direct. It is an awareness or readiness to receive what the world throws at you. In certain Tibetan meditations one sits with eyes open, not focusing on anything, making the gaze soft.

This soft looking is relevant not only to meditation but provides clues about how we might live – ready to take on what comes without anticipating it or dwelling on what has gone. Not holding onto one thing or the other yet being open to it all.

Like this bollard. Happy and sad at the same time.

Image of the Week: Buzzard

DSC_0867.JPGLike last week I again decided to choose an image from a list instead of thumbnails. This is a bad picture of a buzzard I was watching during the week as she cruised over the fields looking for breakfast. Buzzards were rare here in Ireland but have begun to spread naturally in the last ten years. I saw my first Irish one in 2013. I was speeding along on my bike when I saw it. I was so excited I nearly fell off the bike…

‘Its a bloody eagle!’ I yelled to no one in particular.

Our buzzards are not the same as the in the U.S. and though they feed on carrion they do eat small mammals and birds. While they can be seen hunting on the wing they also favour sitting on fence posts and telegraph poles keeping an eye out for rats and the like. Some people believe the decline of the grey squirrel, once the scourge of the red squirrel population, is due to the return of the buzzard. What goes aroundcomes around.

Though the buzzard is very useful in the countryside in controlling the rat population and cleaning up carrion – not to mention that they are uplifting to see – there are still people who will shoot and poison them in case they start carrying off their dogs or cows or horses. As if. For, while at first our buzzard looks fierce and majestic, that is only a front. They are no good at catching birds on the wing.They are noisy when diving, scaring off any prey. They seem to be scared of just about everything and are often seen being chased by crows – this one was chased off by my rabble of doughty sparrows.  To top it all their feathers make them look like they are wearing a brown ‘Christmas Jumper’ all of which seems to make them pathetic characters. A sort of low end eagle. Or perhaps an Irish eagle. But they are ours and long may they soar.

 

Image of the Week: Double Blind

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I am calling this double-blind photography.  In the first instance the LCD screen on my pocket camera is broken so I can never see what I am shooting until I get to my lap top. I am what is called a ‘Wrecker’. Everything I look at disintegrates. (Incidentally I use a pocket camera because I have given up having a SmartPhone as they seem to disintegrate more readily than StupidPhones). In the second instance I decided this week that I would pick my photo from a list rather than from a thumbnail selection – so I wouldn’t know which photo I was selecting – and then write whatever came into my head. When I saw the boring, ‘failed’ image I had picked I was tempted to pick again and then lie.

This photo was taken on Broad Street in Waterford. Irish people will recognise the Dunnes Stores franchise. Dunnes is our homegrown department store that began life with the intention to bring better value to the people of Ireland,  maintaining a policy of accepting low profit margins in order to offer the lowest prices. For a long time this would be true. Dunnes was also at the centre of an ant-apartheid action. In the early 1980s a check out worker Mary Manning began a three year strike against the selling of South African oranges in Dunnes Stores. The Irish Government would eventually ban South African imports. Times changed. Dunnes got notions about itself during the boom and began to distance itself from Ireland’s working class and never quite came back down to earth. But it wasn’t Dunnes I was trying to snap. It was a pile of pallets standing outside another shop waiting to be loaded up.

A pallet is ‘a flat transport structure, which supports goods in a stable fashion while being lifted by a forklift’, according to Wikipedia, and they are usually made of wood. Wiki has a LOT to say about pallets. Obviously I am not the only ‘pallet nerd’ around. I like pallets partly because I like wood but also because I use them in constructing my sculptures. I currently don’t need any pallets – and I am trying to ignore them as I have completely wrecked my car transporting them home – but still I find myself eyeing them lasciviously as I walk about town.

Recently I made a bed from pallets. I am inordinately proud of it. It is quite brilliant and even includes extending bedside tables and under-bed lighting. Apart from being an excellent bed it has a lot of meaning for me as is the first bed I have ever owned. I have always rented. In post-boom ireland, owning a house is becoming less and less of a reality for most, even a couple who both work full-time – let alone a single struggling artist – are being priced out of the market. Repossessions are at an all-time high. Homeless figures are expanding by the minute. Planning laws, dictated by our ever more greedy leaders, many of whom are Dunnes Stores target customers I suppose, make it difficult for people to even think of constructing their own houses.   Making my pallet bed is an action in the face of huge obstacles – all of which are external – and it is a statement of intent, an intent to somehow make my own home. I have no idea how or where I will build this house (which will be very small and perhaps in the bottom of a ditch), but I will.

 

Image of the Week: Holdfast

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I am noticing a temptation during this series to ‘one-up’ myself, to do a more ‘interesting’ or weird photo than the previous week. It’s a temptation that  I am going to try and subvert as it is not only a denial of missteps or failure or process but it is a drive that seems to say there is only one way to take a perfect photograph, paint a painting, or write a piece of writing. This is clearly not so. There are different tones and contexts. There are thoughtful works, shocking works, works that comfort us or unsettle us or make us think. Even a bad work- especially a bad work – teaches us something or inspires us to do better. Sometimes, what seems to be a weak work may not in certain contexts be weak at all. A weak work can make a collection of works more interesting, provide a low note to a high note. Perhaps it’s attributes may be harder to uncover yet more interesting for that difficulty.

I have only grappled with these thoughts since I started writing this piece but I recognise it as an important issue for me in my work. In every artwork I do I am trying to get it perfect, include everything in the world in it and while that impulse can lead to wonderfully chaotic results its a huge pressure that denies the importance of development. I only see now, five years after returning to college, the path my work has taken, how each work relates to the others, how everything is joined up, how it makes sense in its context in my developmental arc despite my innate anti-structuralism – or whatever you’d call it, this weird dissociated, disjointed take on the world.

Why do I think this photo is weak?It’s pretty(I think) and it is well enough balanced. It speaks of sun and the beach and nature but there are far better nature/sea/beach photos out there. It is not saying anything new. It’s a bit ‘nice’. I like things a little twisty and a little dark and maybe funny or unsettling.

What I do like about this picture is the subject. The holdfast is the root system of kelp. I always liked that name – holdfast. It speaks of strength, determination and persistence in the face of stormy seas.

***

I was on the beach today in the sun after a rare swim surrounded by nature my mind wandering idly about when it occurred to the saying ‘all we have is each other’ might mean something beyond a do-goody imprecation to be nice. Maybe it means that in the world that is wild and untamed where nothing makes sense, not really, all we have are the stories we tell ourselves and each other about how life is. Our shared beliefs hold us togther, allow us to map out paths, to evolve, develop. These narratives on which we balance are made up, not real, but without them we have nothing…

Another thought floats to the surface. A friend and ex-colleague of mine, Nigel. He equally inspired love and exasperation. He was in a word, indefatigable.

adjective
  1. (of a person or their efforts) persisting tirelessly. Tirelessuntiring, never-tiring, unweariedunwearyingunflagging;

Nigel was always Nigel. He was everyone’s friend, he was the same with everyone. He had advice for all, attended all the work night outs and excursions and trips. He would go to the opening of an envelope it was said. He was always doing something. He was proud of his garden and one day he asked me to let him know when there was kelp on the beaches so he could collect some for compost. I did. And he did.

Nigel died suddenly four years ago this weekend. Today when I saw the kelp on the shores I thought of Nigel and how he enjoyed his life and how we must hold fast in honour of friends who are gone, we must hang in there, we must not give up.

Image of the Week: The Red Thread

DSC05784b.jpgA rainy day in Waterford I spotted this piece of red cord snagged my eye. The image appealed, not only the scarlet against the grey but how it had fallen into the grooves created by the cobbles. I thought of the invisible structures that control our path through life and whether we are really free.

It brought to mind the concept of paths of desire  – which sounds like the title of a poem by Kahil Gibran or a line from Sog of Songs. It is a concept referred to by architects to delineate the paths that people naturally take to get from one point to another. Think of a large, square green in a housing estate surrounded on all four sides by a footpath and houses. Then see the path worn across the grass diagonally by thousands of feet proceeding from point A to point B by the fastest route. That is a path of desire. More practical than magical it is not so much Kahil Gibran as Cahill O’Brien. Why it is related to architecture is hard to say as most paths of desire appear despite the surrounding architecture – even to spite it – and are in fact underlined by it.

Related to this idea is Michel de Certeau’s Walking in the City. De Certeau describes a city as being more than the bricks and mortar we see. It is made up of layers of the paths each denizen of the city has taken – imncluding the foxes, the cats, the birds – from far in the past to the present. The well travelled paths and those less so. The habitual journeys and the unique ones. Some of these paths remain only in the street names or the nature of the buildings but remain they do and added to each day by each of us.

I think then of The Red ThreadDe Rode Draad – which was an advocacy group for prostitutes in The Netherlands fromed in 1985. It was designed to protect and strengthen the position of sex workers, to inform about human trafficking, violence against women (and men), and health issues and so on. As practical as this seems to me, The Red Thread was sometimes controversial.  The Red Thread was declared bankrupt in 2012.

And so it is all about desire the good and the bad of it, desire to get from one place to another, the desire to be free or to be guided, the desire of one person for another, the desire to protect and to harm…

A rainy grey day, a piece of cord, a flood of thoughts. Eat your heart out Proust…

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Image of the Week: The Road Less Traveled

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I had an existential crisis when I came to a fork in the road on the way to work the other day. Sometimes I think I’d like to live my life according to puns. Could I perhaps not have turned up at work, citing my cutlery encounter as an excuse?

‘I took the wrong fork in the road and got lost?’

I only noticed how dirty my shoes were when I looked at the photo. All my shoes are dirty. I am a bit clumsy, excitable and impatient so I am always dropping stuff – food, tea, paint, plaster – or splashing the washing up water all over the kitchen (dishwasher?well for you!) How do people keep their shoes clean? I spent the rest of the walk to work thinking about a girl I knew in school who was always pristine. Her shoes never stopped looking new. Did it take much effort, being careful of everything?or was it ingrained. Another fussy friend of mine once told me…

‘I envy your disregard for objects…’

I like having a disregard for objects. I don’t like having dirty shoes though.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Image of the week: Drill

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Not a particularly accomplished shot, technically or artistically but as my drill has been glued to my hand for most of the week it deserves a post. I have been dismantling my installation, Fantastic Voyage, along with de-installing a show and installing another show at the local arts centre, Garter Lane. I usually like uninstalling my work as it gives a chance to think about what’s next and sometimes it throws up shadows of future work and I was looking forward to making a timelapse of it’s defabrication (it was a tunnel) however in the end I came under pressure to take it out fast and literally had to tear it down and shift it elsewhere in order to salvage the wood from it. I was also smothering with a cold and there were various other jobs and issues to deal with. A tough week after a tough summer but in the end I am happy the show is finally over. I am never happy until the work is home, wherever that home might be, as it feels like I have left a bit of me somewhere. I am looking forward to a winter of small scale projects. But first, a lie down.

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The shadow of other things…