December 24th, 2010 Doug
At this time of long dark winter days, the notes made in the sketchbooks throughout the year are at their most valuable, and not only the most recent books but images and ideas collected over years of traveling and researching. And the variety and quality of these notes are often of interest to visitors to exhibitions or my studio.
When taking part in residencies, such as this years visit to the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, I often have my sketchbooks available for interested parties to view. Many people reading the sketchbooks are surprised at the quality and level of detail (or lack of) in some of the pages. There is often a misconception that artists notebooks are full of highly detailed ‘polished’ drawings, when often the opposite is the case. So much of the most important information is in the form of personal shorthand, both in words and pictures.
First sketchbook notes for Sounds
In the studio at the moment I am working on a new triptych, Sounds, a collaboration piece with Norman Bissell. The work is inspired by Norman’s poem of the same name, from his book Slate, Sea, and Sky.
it’s hard to tell
the sound of the wind
from the sound of the waves
or the sound of the waves
from the sound of the rain
or the sound of the wind
and the waves and the rain
from the sound of my breath
The poem is a fabulous wealth of ideas for me, the lines evoking strong moods and images of the sea, and stirring many personal memories and experiences of the Atlantic coast of Scotland. When I first started working with the poem, I wanted to find the best way to create a piece of art that would compliment Norman’s poem. I carried the poem around with me in my small Moleskine notebook and read it daily. I had a rough idea what I wanted to do with the image and made some initial ’shorthand’ notes (image above).
The notes were an attempt to create a visual dialogue for the motifs of the poem, merging the elements of the wind, waves, and rain. The translation of abstract thoughts into actual, while maintaining the original concept in the best way possible, has always been an important aspect of my work. Objectifying anything that comes from the imagination requires a clear understanding of what you are trying to communicate to your audience. With this piece I have the additional problem of maintaining the original quality and clarity of Norman’s poem.
Sketchbook working drawings for Sounds triptych
Through a series of working drawings I have developed a triptych format for the work, with the three pieces following the poem; wind and waves, waves and rain, and all three together. Each piece, though made to be viewed separately, will have compositional devices and movement that will link them together and work when seen as the triptych. I’ve drawn upon my experiences and knowledge of Scotland’s southern Atlantic coast and its dramatic weather and scenery to create the work.
Field study for Sounds - skell winds on the Atlantic coast
Watch for posts during January for images of the finished work. Norman Bissell will be giving a talk on creative collaborations at the Pier Art Centre in Orkney, entitled “Atlantic Poetics: Of The islands I Speak” on the 28th and 29th of January, 2011.
Sounds feature in Norman Bissell’s book Slate, Sea, and Sky, published by Luath Press.
Click on this link to read more about the book.
Sounds is reproduced by kind permission of Norman Bissell
December 17th, 2010 Doug
Great opportunity for writers (and non-writers) to join in with Fiona Robyn’s project “River Of Stones’.
Fiona is looking for participants to contribute a post each day during January to the River Of Stones blog. Each written piece will give the writer an opportunity to share their observations of life around them in a way which Fiona describes as ‘paying attention’.
“Because choosing something to write about every day will help you to connect with yourselves, with others, and with the world. It will help you to love everything you see - the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the beautiful and the ugly.
You don’t have to be a ‘writer’ to get involved. The PROCESS of paying attention is what’s important. I’d especially like ‘writers’ and ‘non-writers’ to get involved. If you’d rather not publish your small stones on a blog, you can write them in a note-book. It could change your entire year…
Will you join us?”
Follow this link to visit the blog, and I hope you feel encouraged to join this fascinating project
December 16th, 2010 Doug
Report To Erigena - After the poem by Kenneth White
December 1st, 2010 Doug
I have been lucky enough over the last few years to work in collaboration with many of the countries best poets. Poetry to me encompasses all the things I would like to do with my artwork, and until recently I have found more in common with poets and their work than other visual artists.
One poet who has had a major influence on my work is Kenneth White. My introduction to Kenneth White’s poems was with a copy of ‘Atlantica’, bought in Galignani, the Anglo-American bookshop in Paris in the late Eighties. My late friend poet Harvey Holton had shown me work of a Scottish poet writing and publishing in France, with whom he thought I would empathise. The poems in the book were alive with the images, mood and colour I was trying to achieve with my art.
In the years since that first introduction, White’s words and the concept of geopoetics have played no small part in shaping my craft and vision; understanding how to read and interpret the landscape, not only in its physical appearance but also in its spiritual aspects. Whether facing into a skell wind on the beaches of the Firth of Clyde, or being kissed by the soft rain on high moorland, the shadow of the poet stands close, looking over my shoulder.
for the question is always
out of all the chances and changes
the features of real significance
so as to make
of the welter
a world that will last
and how to order
the signs and symbols
so they will continue
to form new patterns
new harmonic wholes
so to keep life alive
with all of being-
there is only poetry.
Wave I - from ‘Walking The Coast’
In the early summer of this year, the opportunity arrived for me to create new works for a book on Kenneth White’s poetry and essays, being written and translated by Nesrin Eruysal and Omer Bozkurt. The book, which will be published in Turkey, contains translations of some of White’s poems including Late August On The Coast, Brandan’s Last Voyage, and Scotia Deserta.
All those kyles, lochs and sounds…
* * *
And the gulls at Largs pier:
sitting in that cafe
at the big window full of wind and light
reading and watching
* * *
Walking the coast
all those kyles, loch and sounds
sensing the openness
feeling out the lines
order and anarchy
chaos and cosmology
a mental geography
* * *
Let the images
go bright and fast
and the concepts be extravagant
(wild host to erratic guest)
that’s the only way
to say the coast
all the irregular reality
of the rocky sea-washed West
Extracts from ‘Scotia Deserta’
Illustrating these poems is both a privilege and a gift for me. I’ve been working on a series of pencil drawings (images below) interpreting sections of the text. Many of the poems feature the coastline of the poets home in northern France. As this is an area I am unfamiliar with, I chose as my reference point the Clyde coast of Argyll and Ayrshire, shores that both Kenneth and I know well.
As well as the drawings, I will be producing a series of assemblages based on the poems. Several sequences in Kenneth White’s work, such as Walking The Coast, and The Western Gateway are a fantastic source of imagery and symbol to an artist such as myself, and offer so many possibilities for new works. I will be continuing to develop both the assemblages and drawings over the winter months, and will continue to post the finished works as they are completed.
Drawings for Kenneth White’s poems; L to R -
Brandan’s Last Voyage; Low Tide at Landrellec; Scotia Deserta; Late August on the Coast; Labrador
* * *
Old shamanskin, listen
while we’re moving farther on
this poem is for you
I’ll pin it on your lining
may we remain long together
through all kinds of weather
and enjoy the travelling.
from Poem To My Coat
Open World - The Collected Poems 1960 ~ 2000
available from Polygon Books
The poems are reproduced by kind permission of Kenneth White
Visit his website at www.kennethwhite.org