Friday, 31 May 2013

Green is the warmest colour

I was interested to learn that our lovely month of May is named after the Roman goddess Maia, who is connected to all growing things and closely identified with Bona Deia, Flora, and many other fertility goddesses. Her public festival would be held on the first of May, and, as Bona Deia the Good Goddess, supplemented with private rites supervised by the Vestals, which only women were allowed to attend. Accounts of these rites are vague, but branches of vine leaves, blood sacrifice, 'games,' and free-flowing wine all feature. It may be a relief to know that Roman Maia took her name, and many of her attributes from the Greek nymph Maia, an altogether more wholesome prospect, sort of.

Greek Maia is the oldest of the Pleiades, daughter of the titan Atlas and the oceanid nymph Pleione; also niece to Prometheus and to Nemesis. The Pleiades were all maiden companions of the goddess Artemis until Orion the hunter took a fancy to them and pursued them so energetically that Artemis asked her father Zeus to intervene. He quickly turned them into doves ('peleides' in Greek) and hid them in the sky, out of the reach of Orien, but also too far away for Artemis to reach. Zeus then thought it would be fun to transform both parties into adjoining constellations so Orien could chase the Pleiades for all eternity. Finally, with an extracurricular dash of flair, Zeus fathered Hermes with Maia. The moral of this story is: never ask a favour from a Greek god, even if he is your father. 

I have shared my time, this first month of green leaves, between nature and my new studio. I say studio, but it is really the top of a barn, so it's not as grand as it sounds. I am making my home for a while in Suffolk which, for those of you who don't know, is pigs and marshes and lots of tractors! And frogs, obviously. As this happy frog will tell you, after half a year of nature's coldest whites, greys and browns: no matter what anybody says, green really is the warmest colour.

A few weeks ago I visited Redgrave and Lopham Fen with Christine, my stepmother, and as well as finding the beautiful white flowers above, also disturbed this adder. I was very impressed by it's skill in avoiding any close up photos; even such a little one was able to sprint through the grass like anything.

These ponies have been brought over to the fen from Poland as they have just the right kind of hooves to withstand the very watery conditions underfoot. They also have curious markings, similar to donkeys; dun-coloured, with the mark of the cross along their spines and down over their shoulders, called 'dorsal stripes', and very tough and tufty ears, as donkeys have. These characteristics, along with dark, striped legs and tail, are usually called 'primitive markings' and hark back to the dawn of horsey time, when they were much smaller and all had toes instead of hooves!

This is the route I take to get to my studio in the morning, along the banks of the river Waveney. When I was younger we used to swim here. In fact, I remember once swimming at midnight with a friend and being quite scared as it was pitch black with no moon to cast any light and no sound except the water and the trees. We stayed immersed out of bravado rather than pleasure, and just as we were thoroughly spooked, something large swam close to us and made the most appalling 'ooo' sound. As I spluttered with fright and paddled away from the ghastly thing, I saw it had patches of white on it's dark head; it was a Friesian cow.

This area is called Falcon's Meadow, although I have not seen falcons here, but herons, and recently one tree across the river has broadcast cuckoo song so loudly that I think the bird must have grown out of all proportion and be ready to topple out of it's nest.

This wooden falcon is a fairly recent addition to the meadow but I feel its gargoylically menacing smirk harks back to another, more hysterical age. Actually, I am not being fair. It is quite sweet, really; hardly disturbing at all. That is, this is the least upsetting photo I was able to take of it.

This is the only bit of town I see on my way into 'work', as I like to think of it. Bungay is a very pretty old market town, mainly famous for the Chaucer Press and the Black Dog Marathon.

My studio!! It may be basic, but it's my first ever studio, so I am very excited about it.

This is at the back of the barn, so if I need to take a break from all my hard work I can do it here. 

These lovely white flowers are called 'Star of Bethlehem' and they shut their petals at night.

Back in my studio, I have just framed a picture given to me by the great and good Rima Staines; artist extraordinaire and, luckily for me, my brother's partner. It is called 'God Learns' and it is one of my favourite of her pictures, and also one of her strangest, I feel. You can view it properly here - it's really worth a closer look. It reminds me of so many things; sphinxes, swallows and something of the desert, and although women with birds bodies are usually harpies this one has a very benevolent air, more like an angelic messenger, the kind of thing that might have flitted down to St John while he was editing Revelations and said, "You know all that stuff about rivers of blood? It's not true." The brushwork is so skilled and subtle, and the colours so delicate, as though Rima personally ground up rose petals, cardamom and cinnamon to make her own paint. Genius! The quote comes from the last chapter of a poem by Rainer Marie Rilke, translated by Robert Bly:

'Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two opposing poles.
Because inside human beings
is where God learns.'

She and Tom were here in Suffolk for the weekend to sell her paintings and prints at Weird and Wonderful Wood; a fair for all things made of wood or just very, very natural. She had just finished painting an amazing new stall sign so here it is, hot off the press, with a wonderful smile thrown in free!

When we visited the stall there were lots of people talking to them and taking photos. Rima's top tip for the fair was to visit the Insect Circus Museum, so I headed straight there.

There was a queue in front of the Insect Circus Museum and, as I have just spent a year and a half in France, I felt a bit uneasy looking at it. My experiences of queuing in France were pretty much non-existent; it just doesn't happen, or if it does then it is not any queuing I have ever seen before.

Avoiding the queue, I walked around a bit and saw everything else. These are made from wood shavings; what a great idea!

See where he's marked the wood, ready to carve it. Lovely. I bought a set of chisels and a couple of clamps in France because I am convinced that I will do a bit of woodwork at some point this century. Also, I find tools completely compelling; it is as though a high pitched whistle that only attracts people like me is fitted to DIY shops all over Europe.

This man said he'd been carving the same spoon for hours because he kept stopping to talk to people, but he reckoned he could do one an hour at a push.

Very tempting; made from a large variety of trees, and they all feel subtly different.

French-festival-weirdos, eat your hearts out! I couldn't decide what this guy on stilts was dressed up as; I thought he was the Green Man, but then I saw another female one, so maybe they are straightforwardly being trees and not pagan gods after all.

Very nice arrows.

Someone was tired and possibly slightly fed up? Or maybe he was wondering if his mum would let him have a throne in his bedroom to control his criminal empire from.

I loved the simple idea behind these designs.

He was working fast and looked like he was enjoying himself, although my attempts at conversation were hampered by the fact that he really needed to concentrate on what he was doing.

And no wonder he had no time to chat; you can't mess about when you're burning something like this.

Finally, the Insect Circus Museum...! It is difficult to describe, and I didn't want to spoil the mood in there by taking too many photos, but if you like the idea of an interactive museum for pretend performing insects then you should definitely look it up here. Every school should have one.

 I wish I'd drawn this.

As well as pictures of famous performing insects on the walls, and vintage posters, there were lots of little boxes with holes like binoculars and when you pressed a button the insects all moved and danced or whatever their thing was.

I'm assuming that the butterfly was a willing volunteer and that no cruelty to animals was involved.

You can see that this little girl thinks I'm completely mad to take a photo, even though she was nice enough to press the button to light up the circus scene for me.

This is Macha, who was waiting at home for us while we were at the fair. When Tom and Rima are away, or even in a different room, she adopts a hunted, abandoned pose but here she is looking merely bewildered.

And now I leave you with some hints of my next blog...

What is going on?

What is this underpainting for?

Who is asleep?

Where can this be?

What is happening here?

And who or what is this?