Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Two seasons in one day

Oscar Wilde, in his essay ‘The Decay of Lying’, proposed that ‘Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life’. My understanding of his argument is that art provides a structure and a way of looking at the world, and that the ‘perception filter’ that results is our only window on the world, hence to all intents and purposes is the world, at least for us. We understand objective reality subjectively and art plays a key role in revealing that reality to us but also colours how we see it. Taking the example of London fogs, Wilde explains that we see these as beautiful because ‘poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects’. I’m not sure I buy that entirely, but I do think that art plays a key role in 'making strange' or making us look again at what otherwise would appear quotidian and banal. This certainly is often the case with art that takes natural history as its subject, giving us fresh perspective on familiar animals, plants and landscapes. One of the things I like about Dunc's work is the transformative power of collecting objects together.

That act of making strange can also occur naturally. This morning, as we set off on our bikes, a thick fog limited visibility to 40 yards or so. Familiar shapes reared out of the mist, with trees, birds and hedgerows suddenly appearing silhouetted, forbidding and alien. Some miles into our ride, the sun suddenly broke through and the mist dissipated almost immediately, leaving a warm, blue-sky day. Such a quick transformation of the landscape, from autumnal mist to summer sun was slightly unnerving, but made me revel again in nature’s constant renewal. Although we cycle those lanes every day, there is so often something new, something startling, something strange to see or experience, I can’t imagine getting bored of it. I am sure that art I have enjoyed plays a role, but I am conscious as well that this act of writing encourages me to notice, to enjoy and ultimately to share my delight.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Rooks, butterflies and brambles.

The rooks returned on Friday. Having been aware of them consistently in small numbers in recent months, alongside the ever present carrion crows and jackdaws, I was alerted by the emotive cawing of a large flock for the first time as they massed around our house assembling at about 7pm to roost in the big trees next to the butchers. I wasn't particularly aware of their absence until they returned to these trees and suddenly the character of the local landscape changes again as we take the steady steps into autumn.

As a family, with Hamish and Tori visiting, we cycled and skated around the village this afternoon with baskets and jars collecting blackberries for pies. We returned from Whitley Lane with several pounds of over-ripe fruit, although just as many disappeared into the hungry purple stained mouths of my children. We then sat in the garden enjoying the late afternoon sunshine in the wood smoke of a dying BBQ and watched the huge numbers of red admiral butterflies feeding on the slushy fallen pears beneath the wind blown trees after a week of rainy weather.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Southern Climes

The Norfolk Hedgefinders have been in France for a couple of weeks. We were in the region of the Charentes, which is far enough south to have a noticeably different climate and wildlife than Norfolk. For one thing, you know it's warm if common lizards are indeed common. The warm sunshine also seems to encourage familiar species such as house spiders to reach considerable size and we saw a greater number of moths and butterflies that seem to have declined in the UK in recent years.
But one of the joys of foreign climes is seeing species that are rare or non-existent at home. And in that category one highlight was the praying mantis that startled us whilst sun-bathing. I've never had a good look at one before and I do wonder how much they inspired Ridley Scott's Alien? Other notable residents also included redstarts, hoopoes, hen harriers, egrets and kites. And kittens. But that's another story...

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Rather late in the day I managed to get my work into the Wunderkammer show with the Bo Lee gallery at the Octagon Chapel in Bath. Went to the opening on Tuesday and had a great evening talking to friends and looking at the work. So many excellent pieces of work in the show and I have attached some pictures beneath. (*Note: the bumble bee in the Tessa Farmer picture has one of her astonishingly small fairy skeleton figures riding on it.)

1: Sarah Ball
2: Tessa Farmer
3: Rose Sanderson
4: Patrick Haynes
5: Angela Cockayne

Friday, 16 September 2011

Crayfish and new students

Two weeks into the new college year and having got all of the level-3 first years to draw mackerel last week I decided to give them all a crayfish. I currently have about 60 crayfish, unromantically 'collected' from the Ikea freezer section and previously preserved in formalyn, drying in trays. My plan is to coat all of these in copper as part of a 'cabinet' artwork later this autumn but while I have them I thought they'd make good drawing subjects.

We had 2 great lessons this morning and 35 students have now all been alerted to the beauty of the crayfish and they did some wonderful work. All were encouraged to work on brown paper or collaged envelopes with pencil, then white paint in-fill and then to work over the original sketch with black indian ink using dip pens. Many of them also then added a bit of water colour or colour pencil and we did some background work with shellac varnish and I hope they left the lesson happy with their terrific achievements. One group however mistook a jar of yacht varnish for quick-drying shellac and so their sketchbooks are still drying on the shelves in the sculpture studio, but when the pages are dry they will be very waterproof and durable in a gale or storm.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Hazelnuts and Admirals

The wind is whipping the trees and the hazelnuts are everywhere. My children are collecting endless buckets of them ready for the squirrels but I'm not sure the squirrels need any help at the moment as there is a glut of hedgerow food available. Weekend evenings have been spent making apple and chilli chutney, sloe gin and bramble vodka and so it's all pretty seasonal. Trying to paint the door-frames and windowsills in-between rain showers and being distracted by the many red admiral butterflies that have appeared in the garden. They are feeding on the fallen pears alongside the honey bees which are also making the most of the sugar. I counted 8 honey-bees on one piece of fruit, dopey with rotten pair and happy to eat unconcerned while I sat watching them. The pears fall and become soft almost instantly and the butterflies sit on them, small dark triangles on the grass before all fluttering about as I approach and all red admirals, no tortoiseshells or peacocks. The butterflies then alight on the nearby rabbit hutch to sun themselves as if having to recover after their Sunday lunch, brilliant deep black and red against the wood of the cage.

On a separate natural history note, Steve, a friend of mine found a slow worm warming itself on the road last week and he lifted it up to save it from traffic only to have it shed it's tail instantly. Feeling guilty at this, as he was trying to help, he was then thoroughly distracted from the slow worm as it sneaked off into the verge, by the ejected tail which although no longer connected to the reptile apparently flipped about energetically on the road. Surely this flipping and jumping of the lost tail is designed to achieve exactly this distraction so that the animal can capitalise on this sacrifice and escape from predators.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

End of Summer

It's already, rather suddenly, more than just the end of summer. The turn in the quality of the light and the shift in the atmosphere was well underway in the later days of August but the days of sunshine are defiantly now in full retreat. The bushes are thick with blackberrys, I collected a jam jar full of sloes on Sunday and there are even shiny conkers on the ground next to the butcher's. I can't stop my bonkers bantham chicken escaping, through the windblown branches of the tree that protrudes from the run, as she thinks she has a clutch of eggs to brood under a bush in the garden but she is sorely mistaken as we have no boy chickens. The morning is dark today and my daughter stood in the garden a full 20 minutes early waiting expectantly for the school bus on her second ever day at High School, tiny and perfectly uniformed under a new umbrella in the rain. I then cycled to work and got the first wet shoes of the autumn but am still hopeful for a bit more sun as September progresses.