Like I said, less words and more pictures
Had a good day blocking in the first of the two panoramas I’ve got planned. So good to be slopping the wet stuff around at last. From now on less words and more pictures:
I also had a really wonderful meeting with Bill Brody last night, his woodcuts are gobsmackingly good. Taut and robust markmaking, really big and on lovely crispy Japanese paper. He prints them by hand using some kind of home made baren that he made out of elk bone. What else would it be in this amazing country ? I hope we can show and work together soon. We also talked about looking and painting, thinking and drawing and had a really good Thai meal with a couple of his friends, Gwen and Jenny.
They told me about a couple of Anchorage characters Linnie and Susan Pacillo who fought an aggressive campaign to use parking tickets to raise revenue by direct action. They dressed as Parking Fairies, and went round Anchorage topping up people’s meters. How perfect is that ? Try arresting a fairy for giving away money. The ticket thing was discredited and now they have built a car park and named it for Linnie Pacillo. I like the way these people think, reminded me of the time Ed Burman dressed up as father Christmas and started giving children presents direct off the shelves in a big London toy store. But that was a long time ago ..
Just back from two days kayaking at Humpy Cove, Resurrection Bay, near Seward. For the first time since setting off I felt I was travelling in the right kit at the right speed for this place.
Quarter inch (if that) of plastic skin under me, then there’s the cold dark pacific fingertips that reach in to grip the mountains. Sometimes these fjords are over 2000′ deep. At last I wasn’t going past, I was properly in the landscape. But mostly it’s the COLDNESS of the water that got my attention. I felt afraid of falling in without a wetsuit, calculating just how far away from the shore I would be when my higher brain functions started to shut down. Then I recalled that the tiny part of this place that has ever been discovered was first reached by people who walked or paddled in boats made of skin and laths. I dearly wished I had their knowledge of weather signs. I know what an incoming front looks like on the other side of the Atlantic, but here : no idea. Apparently south winds are the biters, and on the last day we got a near gale from the NW which trebled our return time through a head sea in a small boat. All of that out of a clear sky. I just found out a kayaker was drowned near us over the weekend. There is nothing picturesque about this place, and nothing quaint or simple about the native people who got here first.
This place has such a thin covering of human occupation, most of it remains untouched. It has an even thinner weaving of names, descriptions, pictures and history. Such a contrast from the place where I come from where every place is named and recorded many times. Every place name carries the DNA of the invaders, traders and farmers who have worked and reworked the place and left intelligible marks for us to see.
The people who got here first had no recourse to printed records or other monuments so you can feel their presence but rarely see it. The cultural threads in this landscape are thin and vibrate on the edge of hearing. In England however, history is woven into a heavy blanket that lays over the rock, a rich topsoil of culture that obscures the landscape. We don’t stand on the bridge at Dedham, we see John Constables painting. I lived in London for fifty five years before I realised the River Fleet wasn’t just a line in Shakespeare but also a real river that still flows under the streets, around the last college I taught at in Clerkenwell and on past Fleet Street to Blackfriars Bridge and the Thames.
I’ve set up a drawing position on the deck of my friends house and have actually started work, which makes me feel a lot better. I’m also meeting a really interesting Alaskan artist called Bill Brody tomorrow in Anchorage. He knows this landscape and goes to great lengths to be in it when he works. What an amazing journey this is.
Another first for the city boy who went on holiday by mistake. I heard munching and stumbling sounds outside my window at 6.30 am. In London that would mean a spaced out clubber sitting on the step, half way through their donor-kebab style breakfast. But this is a different place and there is no front garden. Also the windows have to be completely blacked out here because it only gets slightly dark for about five hours a night. I lifted up the blinds and a moose was about three inches away from the glass.
We both looked at each other with a Homer Simpson DOH ! expressions and s/he carried on with breakfast. Was so big she had to kneel down to reach the grass, like she was praying.
Started work at last. Working up a series of studies of the fluid landscape. Sun, water and air, three out of the four alchemists elements.
On reflection this seems perverse in a landscape so dominated by the presence of such vast scale and weight. As a kid I used to imagine that cloud shapes were really mountains, just outside London. You don’t have to do that here, there are real mountains on every edge of town. But all this mass is deceptive, and far from static. We are sitting right on the most seismically active area in the N America. This is a subduction zone where one continental land mass slides under another. There are over 23,000 earthquakes a year here, 150 since 4 pm. yesterday afternoon.
The mountains here are as fluid as the sea and the air, if you watch them for long enough. That’s enough words. Here’s the pictures.
What is is about airports and aeroplanes ? I’m trying to gather myself after a first ever long haul flight. Two days in the paraffin powered dreamtime : three legs, sleeping in Newark airport, wide awake in Seattle.
There is something about crossing over to airside that means not all of you comes back. Days that were the same as nights in the blur of 24 hour shopping and surveillance. Everywhere that paraffin smell of jet fuel that reminds me unsettlingly of the stove that used to heat our flat in Manor Park and make petal flame shapes dance on the ceiling when I was a kid.
Maybe it’s also to to with stretching of time, which can’t be stretched so it’s us that get pulled taut instead. We are here, we wait, we wait more and then we are suddenly there, which is almost exactly like here was. Most of us are anxious, except the shark suited business people who are all focus but no actual presence, like laser pointers. The only people who are familiar with the airside world are either bored or exploited. They sweep, sanitise toilets, wish a thousand strangers well every day or they check our shoes for explosives. A really interesting artist working in Alaska, Bill Brody has a good word for arriving after a journey : decompression. I’ve been corresponding with him and hope to meet up and see his big panoramic woodcuts in their proper paper form. But most of all I want to stop feeling spaced out and get on with my work.
I also will be asking him and the friend who I am staying with what in the world can eat the bark off a tree six foot above ground level in the yard outside. Needless to say this city boy that went on holiday by mistake stayed indoors for the first day.
Abdullah Ibraihim is doing a concert tonight at the Barbican in London. He just said something beautiful on the radio :
“Once you strike the note there’s nothing more that you can do about it.”
Such a helpful thought when so much of this job is spent trying to grapple with instransigent stuff that dries too quick, goes too dark, moves too easily or just doesn’t look like what I thought I wanted. His compositions have such grace and heart, like so many of the pianist composers in Jazz. Breathe in and breathe out, it’s all improvisation. It’s good to get past what I think I want out of making this stuff and try to see what there actually is after a day at work. Sometimes there’s comfort in whatever marks there are and you are so tired you can’t be arsed to scrape them off.
So far today all I’ve got is some rather beautiful primed cotton duck, glowing gently as it dries in the studio.
Finished the last carnival project late last night so now it looks like I might finally be on approaches for the Alaska job. Three days to get my seals in a circle. Time for last minute decisions and planning (is there any other kind ?) :
Support : fine cotton duck. I’m planning to pre stretch, prime and the roll up for the journey. This makes showing simpler than paper which needs frames and glass. Will experiment with getting a gesso like surface without making it so brittle it cracks when I roll it up.
Media : Charcoal. No time for anything clever so back to cave man burnt sticks. I also want to use bodycolour so will put together a tight palette of acrylic based colours. Like the ones for the Orford Bomb Ballistics building panorama or the new Orford 360 panorama I’ll use paper and sketchbooks for the rapid studies of weather and other changes. Have made some special sketchbooks that take letterbox format paper. Probably with watercolour.
Off to watch paint dry now.