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Wiping the Three Brighdes etching plate

The Crowded Room in question is a hay barn at Shatwell Farm in Somerset, and is the latest unusual venture by Matchett & Page. Here is what they say about their inspiration for this exhibition:

“Matchett & Page’s first exhibition A Crowded Room responds to the new status of the crowd in the time of COVID-19. Nationwide and local lockdowns, social isolation and physical distancing have all contributed to the transformation of crowds into uneasy bodies. The desired coming together that these gatherings represent is tempered by the risk that too much too soon will force us back into isolation.

A Crowded Room brings together the work of four artists: Bronwen Bradshaw, Nell Brookfield, Sophie Willoughby and Maddalena Zadra. Scenes recalled from memory and intimately observed touch portraits sit alongside carnivalesque chimeras and bird-head masks. Together this odd company of real and imagined figures creates a surrogate crowd in the space of the gallery.”

The etchings which were chosen for this exhibition stem from a time in my life when theatre was a huge inspiration. All the etchings have a story behind them, which the viewer is invited to imagine; however, I’ll give a few clues here.

The Three Brighdes

The Three Brighdes may not be a theatre piece, but the manner of their making was. A group of women gathered in a small chapel in Glastonbury on St Bridget’s Day, February 1st, to make that year’s Brighde, or Bridget doll (it was the middle one, with a cork for a nose). This ritual was accompanied by wine – hence the cork – and much laughter, as well as serious intent to celebrate Imbolc, the Celtic first day of Spring, and thereby to honour the Irish Saint Bridget, whose chapel it was, and who spent many years at Glastonbury. I drew these three dolls as they later lolled together in Diana Griffith’s caravan at the Dove. This is an etching on copper, and incorporates lift ground, soft ground, open bite and aquatint.

The Wedding Party

This little etching, or drypoint, was scratched, sandpapered and scraped onto an acrylic sheet, inked up and printed through an etching press. The wedding party was one of many winding up a steep road to a monastery in the Caucasus mountains. The bride and groom were given a rapid blessing, and then the next party would arrive. Georgia has a strong religious tradition, but during the Soviet era weddings were only performed in civic ceremonies. This is how the Georgians got round this.

Remembered

‘Remembered’ is just that: an image that came from memory. I don’t know who she is or was, but she was very definite, and I enjoyed making the print out of cardboard and various textures stuck together and printed as an etching plate. This technique is known as Collograph.

Tamburlaine

Tamburlaine the Great was played by Antony Sher at the Globe Theatre in Stratford on Avon some time in the ‘nineties. My daughter Robin and I had queued all night in bitter January weather to get two of the best 100 seats in the house for just £5 each. We were rewarded with middle of the front row seats, and the prowling figure of the tyrant at the front of the apron stage threatened to land in our laps. I dreamed of this image all the following night and quickly jotted it down in the morning. The resulting etching is on zinc, and is a combination of lift ground, aquatint and open bite. A year or two after completing this etching, I saw Antony Sher in a radically different character in an Alan Ayckbourn play at the Savoy, and afterwards went backstage to give him number one of the edition. He is an artist as well as an actor, and his thankyou card said he liked it very much. That pleased me, not because I was flattered (though I was), but because in it he had recognised something of the character he created.

The Messenger

Last, but not least, The Messenger. This was made from a rapid sketch of a lovely carved stone head in the Glastonbury Abbey Museum. It played a leading role in a solo exhibition I had at the Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, based on a 6 month residency at the Abbey. It is a monoprint, which means each print, though similar, has differences, as it is redrawn each time I print it. This is a fast and often powerful technique that I will be teaching this weekend at a workshop organised by the curators of the exhibition, Kendra Matchett and Matt Page. My huge thanks to them for inviting me to exhibit, and for finding works of mine that I had long forgotten about, and which might well set me off in a new direction.

The exhibition continues this weekend 26/27 September, and the following weekend 3/4 October, or by appointment with the organisers. Please see their website for further details at http://www.matchett.page

Green walnut

This is the story of a French walnut tree and a trip to Georgia over 30 years ago. First Georgia. I went there with Gog Theatre and our play Birdman in the late eighties. From the moment we arrived, after a 3 day train journey on the Yerevan Express from Moscow, we were plunged into fabled Georgian feasting and singing.

Georgia 1

Gog meets the Young Rustaveli Theatre Company

Every meal was a momentous event. Even breakfast.

Georgia 2

Breakfast table

When it was time to leave and I thought I was packed (very heavy bag), my host family appeared with presents that they absolutely INSISTED I had to take with me: 2 bottles of heavenly Georgian wine, several packets of fragrant Georgian tea from the shores of the Black Sea, and a large jar of homemade Kaklis Muraba – delicious sweet pickled walnuts. Thus I brought the taste of Georgia home, and the memory of it can transport me straight back to that wonderful country and its people.

Fast forward to the Dove in 2020 and the French walnut tree. It had started life on a steep slope in the Gorges du Tarn, several years after my Georgian trip. It arrived via a friend, and I planted it on the meadow where it grew imperceptibly – until, it seems, this year. Lockdown arrived, and so had the walnut.

Walnut tree 5

Walnut catkin up close

Walnut tree 4

Young leaves. The colour reappears in the wine – see below

Two months later, its first proper nut crop started to appear

Walnut tree 2

and it hit me: the memory of the taste of Georgian Kaklis Muraba. It was June, the perfect time to pick walnuts for pickling, and it was lockdown, so I had plenty of time. I found a recipe on the internet and set to the day after Solstice. First peel your walnuts:

Pickled walnuts 1

My solstice walnuts, peeled and soaking

Pickled Walnuts 2

Still soaking 2 days later, but some colour change!

Soaking goes on for 6 days, and while I waited I kept picking walnuts. It’s the best thing to do here, I’m stealing a march on the squirrels. Here are some more walnuts steeping in vodka with lemon zest, spices and sugar to make Nocino – the Italian walnut liqueur

Nocino 3

Nocino first steps

A by product of all this activity: boiled up walnut peel to make ink

Ink the colour of the walnut chest brought to me from Pakistan by my sister many years ago

Walnut chest 3

I couldn’t stop! I started soaking leaves for walnut leaf wine

Walnut leaf wine 1

The strained liquid came out this colour. From green leaves. Going to be some wine

Walnut leaf wine 2

Still waiting for the walnuts to soak (that is how they lose their bitterness as you have to keep changing the water), so I started to delve into the the background of the walnut. First, its name, Juglans. Juglans goes back to Jovis Glans, or ‘nut of Jupiter’. It was considered to be a nut of the gods, and the Greeks had got there first with their myth of Dionysus and Carya. Dionysus fell in love with the nymph Carya, and when she died he transformed her into a walnut tree. Artemis carried the news to Carya’s father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called Caryatides, or nymphs of the walnut tree. The word for walnut in Greek is Karydaki. In many traditions, including indigenous American, it is seen as a sacred tree: magical, medicinal and edible. Not to mention its use as a strong, durable and beautiful timber. Pretty good going! To finish this brief summary, I’ll quote Culpepper, who says’ This is a plant of the sun. Gather it while green, before it shells.’ So I did.

Walnut tree 3

A Plant of the Sun

I just need to look at all these colours together once more, for this week has been as much about colour as taste

 

It’s also been a trip around the world, from my kitchen:

Georgia France Italy Pakistan Somerset

Postscript: I bottled the pickled walnuts yesterday: they taste AMAZING.

 

 

 

Sometime in May, Judy Willoughby invited me to post an artwork a day for a week on Facebook, without title or any other explanation. It took me a while to get into this, as I had decided not to accept any challenges of this nature, but one evening I decided to bite the bullet and pulled a random book out of my bookcase, which happened to be of the art of Franco Vecchiet. I know Franco from Venice, as he taught relief print for many years at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, where I ran some etching weekends, and also took part in a residency. You might be forgiven for imagining this installation was in Venice, but in fact it was in Spalato, in 1987.

artwork a day 1 Franco Vecchiet

Awake, Installation by Franco Vecchiet, Spalato 1987

For the second artwork I did much the same thing: a random book selection, this time ‘The Art of Dove Bradshaw’. I was given this book by Gareth Mills, of Glastonbury bookshops fame: he explained that I was probably the exact person who should have it. My near namesake, Dove Bradshaw, is an American artist who works with ‘nature, change and indeterminacy’. She combines unstable materials with traditional ones, setting off a metamorphic process.  Here the materials are copper and acetic acid on paper. She also, incidentally, was friends with, and worked with, John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Someone after my own heart. I want to be her sister.

Artwork a day 2 Dove Bradshaw

Without Title, 1994, Dove Bradshaw, Copper, acetic acid on paper, 13 3/4 x 3 inches

So far, the work has been by artists who are not well known in the UK. For the third artwork, I resorted to a better known artist, Marino Marini.  He is mostly known for his sculpture, but I really love his 2D work. I saw this and other paintings and prints at an exhibition in Chartres, France, in 1993, and they’ve never left the back of my mind.

Artwork a day 3 Marino Marini

Transparence, 1959, Marino Marini, Oil on canvas 1.51 x 1.20m

Artwork number 4. This is from a book in my bookcase that I have haven’t seen there before….honest. It’s a kind of catalogue of book works, and starts with a memorable quotation from Jorge Luis Borges: ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.’ So many images I could have chosen, but this one truly did sum up my feelings the day I posted it;  it is the world I would like to inhabit. It’s from a book by Juergen Teller, ‘bringing together images from the Spring Summer 2008 Vivienne Westwood campaign. In his usual style, Juergen Teller photographed the collection by creating a highly theatrical mis-en-scene which involved the collaboration of not only the models but also the designer herself. ‘

Artwork a day 4 Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood Spring Summer 2008, Juergen Teller, photograph

Day 5. By now I had a sense that the number of images left was limited. I always intended to include this painting by Leonora Carrington, entitled ‘The Artist Travelling Incognito”. I love her humour (and wisdom). I saw it in an exhibition of her work in Tate Liverpool some years ago, and bought the postcard.

Artwork a day 5 Leonora Carrington

The Artist Travelling Incognito, 1949, Leonora Carrington, oil on canvas 45.5 x 35.5cm

When I first saw this image, I thought that the artist, Yinka Shonibare, had wrapped all the books in African fabrics. But they were bound, not wrapped. An astonishing installation acquired by the Tate for its permanent collection, the books ‘celebrate cultural icons and diversity. Three walls of the gallery are taken up with shelves of 6,328 books. On 2,700 of the books are the names, printed in gold leaf, of first- and second-generation immigrants to Britain who have made significant contributions to the country’s culture and history.’ An artwork for our times.

Artwork a day 6 Yinka Shonibare

The British Library, 2014, Yinka Shonibare

And so to the last artwork. So many candidates for this! But I decided to go back to my – and everyone’s – artistic roots, and posted this owl from the Chauvet Cave in France. A humble little sgraffito which nevertheless demonstrates the extraordinary skill of the people who decorated the caves. Just a few lines say it all. One of my all time favourite quotations is from ‘On Drawing’ by John Berger, who visited these caves and afterwards wrote: ‘Art, it would seem, is born like a foal who can walk straightaway. Or to put it less vividly… the talent to make art accompanies the need for that art; they arrive together.’

I couldn’t end this project on a better note.

Artwork a day 7 Chauvet Cave Owl

Owl, Anon, Chauvet Cave, Le Pont d’Arc, France

 

Mayday Trees 13

It’s the first of May, four and a half months since we planted the trees on Wild Lea, and high time for an uplifting catchup on their progress. In a word, miraculous. Planted into solid clay, rained on solidly for two more months, then subjected to increasing drought – and they are (nearly) all still there. We’ve lost maybe 4 or 5, but they could sprout later too. The oaks have been a bit of a worry as they are only just now starting to show any sign of life.

Mayday Trees 11

An oak showing signs of life

Contrast this with the two oaks that came from people’s gardens, with a more developed root system and a different planting method because of that (hole dug rather than slot planting). We’ve been told that oaks like a two slot planting – in the shape of a cross – so that the ‘glaze’ of the wall of the clay is broken. Good advice for the future.

All the rest of the trees seemed more than fine with the slot planting, in fact that method plus lots of hay mulch kept them pretty damp even through the dry spell. And ALL the willow cuttings in the Willow Walk have taken! Here’s a quick round up of a selection of trees:

Mayday Trees 14

Crab apple – rather a special one from the Orient! Seems happy enough in the Occident.

Mayday Trees 10

All the birches in the Avenue bar one have survived, though none has put a head above the parapet yet

 

Mayday Trees 5

Here’s an Alder that HAS ventured forth….

Mayday Trees 12

And a VERY happy Hornbeam!

Mayday Trees 9

This Yew made it, though one of the 3 Yews planted in the Dove corner didn’t; it was a seedling dug up from under a hedge, so not all garden reared trees are superior. I don’t think we dug up enough of its root system

And lastly, a Dogwood and a Hawthorn. Both bursting forth.

I hope all this makes everyone as happy as we are! With more time on my hands, my daily walk is around all the trees, so I’m keeping a good eye on them. We have plans in progress for watering. This week we were saved by the rain, but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep them going for long, so we have bought a large farm-sized water container, and also made sure that our water trough is working and available. The container will go on Dan’s trailer and we’ll get to all the trees that way.

When present restrictions on movement loosen up, we are planning to invite everyone involved in this project to an Open Day. Can’t wait!

We are already thinking about Stage 2 planting: the Wood. Not just thinking, but doing; Maya was alerted to some oaks that needed a home as a local nursery had been forced to close, so she and Cara planted 20 up by the entrance to Wild Lea, ready for the Woodland planting next Autumn. We’ll be in touch about that again, and will be looking for volunteers/benefactors again, and arranging another inspiring and heartwarming planting weekend.

 

 

Bride's cross

A topic we are currently tossing around on our ABCD book group page is ‘Magical Thinking’, which originated in a post made by Judith Staines, of Taleos: talismans that ward off danger, in particular plague and illness.

Taleo from Laos

Taleo in a Lao village

So I started looking around for home grown talismans (-men?), and came across the St Bridget’s cross. “Making a St Bridget’s Cross is a custom in Ireland. The St Bridget’s Cross is made out of plants called rushes for hanging above the entrances to dwellings to invoke the saint’s help in warding off disease.”

Screen Shot 2020-04-11 at 11 Apr 13.47.24

I’ve been aware of St Bridget, or Brigid, or Bridie, or Brighde, for a long time, as she is closely associated with Glastonbury, my home town. On the outskirts of the town is a green hill (not the Tor, much flatter!) known as Bride’s Mound. For several years now it has been owned by a trust of local people who have so far successfully warded off encroachment onto the site by the neighbouring industrial estate, the former Morlands site. Excavations were undertaken in the 19th and 20th centuries, and I believe also recently. These have revealed the foundations of an old chapel, or maybe two, possibly corroborating the legend that St Bridget came here from Ireland and that this place was the entry point for Irish monks visiting Glastonbury, one of whom is said to have been St Patrick himself.

Bride's Mound for blog

‘Bride’s Mound’, an etching, part of my ‘Holy Islands’ series

Brides Mound from the Brue

Bride’s mound during the floods of 2013

My etching was made in 2013 as part of a solo show at Glastonbury Abbey. But my interest stems from earlier than that: in around 1988 I took part in an annual ritual of making a ‘Brighde Doll’, in the Bridget Chapel that leans against the north wall of Glastonbury Abbey. A group of women friends had got together on Brigid’s Day, February 1st, to make a doll out of anything that they had/was lying around. Our Brighde that year is the one in the middle of my etching, with a cork for a nose (lavish wine drinking traditionally accompanied the ritual, or so we imagined). The 3 Brighdes, that one and the two from previous years, took up temporary residence at the Dove in Diana Griffith’s caravan, and there I drew them and made this etching:

The 3 Brighdes

The etching had the distinction of being considered for removal from an exhibition at the Black Swan Gallery, Frome, later that year, following several complaints from the public that it was ‘black magic’ and too ‘witchy’. Plus ça change….Luckily, it was saved by the then curator, who didn’t bow to public pressure.

So….later, in the ’90’s, I made many etchings from imagination, eyes closed at first, and then worked with what emerged. This one became ‘Old Biddy’ and shows Brigid with her cows.

Old Biddy

Brigid, incidentally, can be seen with her cows in a carving on the side of the Tor.

Brigid on the Tor

Brigid milking her cow, bas relief on the outside wall of Glastonbury Tor

Here’s a lovely description of Brigid from the Glastonbury Abbey website: “Most of the miracles attributed to her were concerned with the relief of poverty or illness. She is reputed to have personally ministered to lepers and to have cured many. Legend draws for us vivid pictures of the kind of woman she was: her lavish generosity, tireless energy and irresistible charm, equally at home in the fields tending sheep or bringing in the harvest. She is found milking cows, making butter and cheese, and tubs of home-brewed ale.”

I love her more already.

So, today I set about making a Brigid Cross from reeds I found in the Whitefield. They were a bit brittle – the time for making these is reputedly February 1st, her day; also Celtic Imbolc and New Year, which would, of course, also have been the totally appropriate time to start guarding ourselves again the plague. But I managed, and here it is, the Brigid Cross, adorning the wall by my ‘magical thinking table’ by the door.

Brigid Cross in the Kitchen

Ama Bolton’s irresistible poem for today!

barleybooks

Leap Year

I wrote this in February 2016 and have not wanted to change it since.
The book I had in mind? I finished writing it. It leaped across the Atlantic in December last year, probably straight into the publisher’s waste-paper basket, though I shall not know for a few months. But I’ll still come up laughing. There are far more important things in life than getting published.

And if celestial navigation is something you wonder about, try this.

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Our little Maison en Terre in Taroudant. Cool walls, warm terrace, glowing lights, snug rooms. Simple and elegant. Thanks, Catherine (designer)!

And now for the closing piece de resistance: Catherine’s garden just outside town, complete with dogs, cats, goats, chickens, a peacock, finches and a tortoise. Oh, and a stunning view of the Atlas too.

And a sunset to follow

catherine's garden 1

catherine's garden 2

Post script: two days later we were in a taxi with Samir, on the 4 hour drive to Marrakech airport. He was a lovely friendly Berber from the mountains, main man taxi driver in Taroudant, and blessedly good at his job. After a dawn drive back through the mountains and the foggy plain, he dropped us at the airport; we paid and thanked him and said goodbye. So that was that. Except that a couple of days later he texted Lilli to make sure we had got home alright.

Inshallah, as Samir said when we parted, we’ll be back.

boxing day 1

Quite easy to guess where we are off to – the High Atlas Mountains which rear up behind Taroudant, and of which I have dreamed since my first visit to them in 2013. That time it was the north side, up from Marrakech. Here in sheltered Taroudant it’s the south, the sun picking out every detail of the landscape on this most spectacularly sunny day. I’m in heaven, in spite of vertiginous drops at the side of the road, and hair-raising hairpin bends all along the route, sometimes with a lorry swinging round them….but mountains are my element, a feeling, or some kind of memory, that I shared with my mother. Don’t ask why.

So here are some of my photos, firstly of the 2 1/2 hour drive up in our landlady Catherine’s rattly old jeep.

We were on our way to Catherine’s Moroccan friend Said’s sister’s husband’s ruin in a village high up in the mountains. Here is this enchanting house, where we picnicked and painted, and ate a lovely tagine prepared for us by the neighbours

After the picnic we walked around the village, which was really an assortment of houses threaded through the trees and rocks and remains of other houses in woods leading down to a valley. Across the valley was a house that looked straight out of Tuscany; French owners I was told. A different world.

People everywhere our side; no photos of them because they didn’t want that, but were friendly and, I guess, fascinated by our appearance in such a remote place. (Any photos of people, incidentally, are Catherine and Said).

We had to tear ourselves away from this magical spot in order to get out of the mountains by sunset. The light all the way down was blazing, the colours vivid and full of contrast, and again, people everywhere in the landscape – tending livestock, picking fruit, coming home from school, just standing there….

And here is our wonderful landlady Catherine who drove us safely all the way up and all the way down.

boxing day 43

What a day. You would have loved it, Mum. This post is for you.

 

We just happened to see this notice on a rather nondescript door (actually that of the Catholic Church) and decided to go. We had, like the rest of the world, heard about the murder, a few days before we got here, of the two Scandinavian young women just over the mountains from here. People had expressed their devastation that this should happen in their country, and a young woman had come up to us n a cafe and said ‘n’ayez pas peur ‘. We certainly weren’t afraid, but wanted to be at the Manifestation to be held outside the city walls at sunset. Took a taxi simply to find the place and ahead of us was this lorry :

A good start. And it was indeed a heartwarming event.

Manifesto

As the sun went down behind the ancient walls I was reminded yet again of our common humanity and that the lorry was right: Love is the way.

So, we arrived in Taroudant after several hours on buses and were met by our French host Catherine together with friend Said. They showed us round, including the best fishmonger in the fish market , where to buy avocados ( off a giant barrow load) and whizzed us through the souks to the main square which is the beating heart of town. Eat at the Yassmin cafe, they advised, so a couple of hours later we did. Tagines there are cooked to order so we waited and watched the life of the Place, and at the very moment our food arrived, the police did too, wrestling a man into a back room of the cafe. All eyes on the Place ( lots) turned towards the Yassmin. Meanwhile we were a couple of mouthfuls into our tagines when rain seemed to come from a cloudless sky above, straight onto our plates.

All sorts of things ensued: we explained we couldn’t eat the food as we had no idea what had landed in them; the patron fairly reluctantly removed them though he said they had no more food, and then a police officer arrived to ask if we wanted to press charges on the person in the top terrace of the cafe who had, it appeared, spilt a bottle of water which had run down the awning into our plates. All eyes on the Place now turned towards us. No of course we didn’t want to press charges: we just wanted some food! This arrived eventually (a small plate to share). End of story, but quite a dramatic first day in Taroudant.

We told Catherine the next day and she said that the French would say we were like White Wolves (Louves Blanches), or as Lilli said, sticking out like a sore thumb. More elegant in French. ….

Here is a photo of the Yassmin- top terrace – bottle of water; table at the bottom – ours. Just to set the scene.

And ps, the man arrested was nothing to do with the water. We heard he was high on drugs and spent the night cooling off in a police cell.

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