Reflections and observations on life in general.

Category: art

Under Snow – 2.

Sunday, forecast for cloud and snow most of the day, a good day for indoor things & administration. I achieved some of those things as well as baking bread and toasting an assortment of seeds and nuts, a few of which I gave, before toasting, to a visiting squirrel on my window-ledge. His, or her, I’ll use the former pronoun to mean whatever, climbing is impressive, he leaps from a thin branch to the grit-embedded wall, 10m up, landing squarely and confidently then moving fast over the rough vertical face; if I start climbing again, he’s my teacher. However, this is not about squirrels, though there were many of them about today. This is about a walk in the woods.

The fresh snow lay on almost every branch, even the finest, to an even depth. It struck me how amazing this is, that despite the snow flakes falling with plenty of space in between them (at least 10cm to my guesstimate), in a short time several had landed on top of and next to each other so as to cover everything. It made me realise the power of the random event, given enough of them, every possible combination can happen, no mystery intent nor agency necessary.

Callendar Wood is part of the estate of Callendar House, now open freely to the public. It is a mixed, mostly coniferous, woodland but has many yew trees in varying forms, some relatively tall and straight, others convoluted and twisted and sprouting shoots from horizontal and dipping branches that create miniature forests on the tree. They are dark trees, heavy beyond their physical mass with what feels to me like accumulated shadows that they hold under their canopies. Previously I have found them gloomy and unattractive trees but here, somehow, in this context, they appear to carry a sombre beauty that reveals itself when I wander under the dark umbrella to explore the twisted forms that even the straightest trees have.

Today the yew trees were lightened by the accumulation of snow which they would occasionally shake off the end of an over-laden branch, sometimes aided by the passage of a pair of squabbling squirrels. The shadows beneath seemed today to hold a slight warmth and sense of snug shelter. In the right light, the bark revealed warmer colours, browns and reddish patches that would glow in sunlight, if it were allowed in. As yesterday, I noticed this but did not feel inclined to stop and draw, the luxury of the camera felt enough to capture a reminder of the visual and mental impressions I was noting.

Passing Callendar House and the expanse of lawns that lead to the long ridges of the Antonine Wall embankments, the place was busy with families, noisy with delighted children tobogganing down the last frontier of the Roman Empire.

It’s been a good weekend, experiencing energy, exquisite moments of visual beauty, space, movement, stillness and a slightly different view of things, under snow.


Earth, water & fire.


Vases, stoneware, 9 & 14cm.

I made these, recently, among my better wheel-thrown pots. My skill level is basic, I do too little of this to become fluent, there are other, higher priorities in my life right now. However, I like them, they will do what I want, for now; when they no longer do, they will become gifts.
Now I just need flowers.


There will be more swans.


It has been a beautiful day, here in Wolverhampton, cool but with hints of Spring beginning in the bright, hazy sunshine. It’s a Sunday to bring the families out and, sure enough, as I write this later in the day, the park is crowded with people of all sorts, their dogs, bikes and other toys, enjoying themselves in a relaxed way with a feeling of ease and relief after a chilly Winter.
As I sat on a fallen branch, making quick sketches, the air was full of scents of cut grass, ground coffee (I had just bought some from a stall), cool air. Cries and barks of children and dogs, above the hiss of passing traffic, were interspersed with a periodic distant roar of football fans in the Molineux Stadium.

Early this morning, I went to the Central Baths to have a swim while the pool would normally be used only by a handful of distance swimmers. There was a Gala on today, so it was closed. So I cycled slowly around the green calm of West Park, watching the birds on the lakes.
The swans were gliding, displaying and courting, a pair was deeply engaged in a graceful dance of dipping their heads in the water and crossing each other’s necks. They mated, quickly and quietly, the male submerging the female briefly, then both surfaced and together made a grunting honking sound I have not heard before; I think they were mutually satisfied!
I returned to the flat for breakfast before deciding it was too good outside to stay indoors. It has been a lovely day, and there will be more swans this year.

Art and Landfill

My main job this week has been to throw works of art into a skip. I am clearing out several years’ worth of accumulated student coursework that the department here had decided it should keep beyond the few months required by exam boards (in case of appeals). Those who wanted to reclaim their work have had ample time so to do; the majority either forgot or weren’t attached enough to the work to bother.

If I were to estimate the hours of research, thought and effort that the students put into this mass of creative output, I suspect it would equate to several lifetimes of artistic expression and exploration. As another portfolio of brightly coloured artwork goes in, with a flash of bright colours, glittering sequins and foil, exhuberant frills and textures, I wonder briefly how absorbed was the student who spent his or her time making this piece.  How much did they struggle with or enjoy the process?  How much pride and confidence did they feel after completing it?  What were the associations that they experienced while producing this work?  What would they feel if they were to look at it now, would they throw it willingly in the skip or would they want, after all, to keep it?

Then there is the quantity of material consumed in this process.  The sheer volume of paper, card, metal foil, glue, wire, paint and so on is impressive; disturbing, too.  I have managed to reclaim some paper, a few other materials, whatever had a genuine use now in the department, but I don’t have enough time to strip down everything, so much has to go.

I dislike this waste, even though it is at least the product of a constructive educational process and all practical subjects require practice and some ‘wastefulness’ to learn and refine skills.  What bothers me the most, I think, is that the creative process has involved so little apparent consideration of the origin and fate of the materials, the “bigger picture” so to speak, the wider consequences of creative activity.  I have an impression that there is a general unwillingness in most school departments to consider the issue of waste and consumption, except in purely financial terms, and even then, inconsistently. If we could at least incinerate it in a school boiler, we would reclaim some useful energy from it all before sending the ash to the landfill.

So I just do the modest things that I can, right now; reclaim usable paper for sketching and painting, set aside reusable canvases and stretchers, salvage useful timber to pass to the Design & Technology store.  I use some wood from old printing frames to make a plant-pot stand for my flat – I’m growing peppers and chillies in the window.

Here goes some more old pottery, glazed and so beyond recycling.  Heavy, lumpy pots, exhuberantly ambitious and small monuments to adolescent baroque taste, fun to look at but perhaps not what you might want to live with.  A few are salvaged by passing staff, some well-made slab-pots, as are some paintings which I give to inquisitive and appreciative young Year 7 pupils whom I have to prevent from climbing into the skip in a frenzy of treasure-hunting; if I’d known they’d be this popular, I’d have set up a stall and sold them to make some money for the department!

Before I leave it all at the end of the day, just another skip-full of rubbish, until you look closely, I reflect on my own feelings to disposing of or destroying my own artwork.  Usually I’ve painted over older work but I have also burned batches of other things, drawings, sketches, notes, paintings for which I had neither space nor further use.  On a couple of occasions this has been a sort of ritual of moving on, a ‘funeral’ for a particular stage in my life, cathartic in a way but more a marker for me and a process of attempting to transform earlier material into new energy and motivation for change.

In the end it’s all to do with letting go, becoming free of attachment and able to use the past as the foundation for now and the future. Real, physical foundations are, inevitably, out of sight yet retain their essential function; if we keep on digging them up to look at them, we  undermine them too.

So this skip-load will soon head for the municipal dump and will mostly end up adding to the vast volume of ‘stuff’ in the ground, fermenting quietly and noxiously for future generations to suffer or have to deal with.  At least most of this load is fairly innocuous and stable: wood fibres and inert hydrocarbons, various metal oxides, silicates, clays, glass, some metals… enough to form a small layer of interesting rock, perhaps.  While present seagulls will be disappointed as they pull apart the bright paper, future geologists, in whatever form they may take, will at least have cause to wonder at what happened in this ancient, wasteful, era;  the rock might even look nice, too.