It happened like this in the world. Old things lost their grip and dropped away; not always because they were bad things, but sometimes because the new things were more bad, and stronger.
T.H. White, The Goshawk
Another drawing, this time mocked-up as a cover for T.H. White’s classic The Goshawk. I sent the original drawing to Helen MacDonald, author of H Is For Hawk, which is partly a personal memoir about grief, but also an insightful biography of T.H White’s unconventional life. After what would have been traditionally described as a ‘nervous breakdown’, White abandoned a teaching career to live in a run-down cottage where he studied falconry and set himself the challenge to ‘man’ (train) a Goshawk. There are easier birds of prey to start with, but White was driven by personal demons to really push at his own limitations. Many times the bird ‘Gos’ really did test him but, along the way, White seemed to learn important lessons and he details them in The Goshawk, which I highly recommend.
Birkitshi – Eagle Hunters In A New World is a fascinating documentary detailing the vanishing way of life of the Birkitshi, a group of Kazakh nomads living on the Western plains of Mongolia. The Birkitshi have an ancient tradition of hunting with golden eagles, but that tradition is under threat from modernization as it encroaches into one of the last truly wild places on earth. As author Ron Rash observes, these eagles are “bad ass birds” that can take down a wolf, so virtually anything is prey for them, and while strapping a GoPro to an eagle’s back does give you some small sense of how they hunt, my innate romanticism forces me to see this as a crass diminishing of the creature’s inherent awesomeness, and it’s far more important for me to see them from our limited human perspective and make the imaginative leap of trying to be an eagle. That said, it’s very interesting to hear the Birkitshi themselves talk about their lives and their relationship with these birds and, after watching this, I feel an eagle painting needs to be made.
Special mention must go to William Ryan Fritch whose soundtrack for the film adds so much to the experience, and can be thoroughly enjoyed in its own right. Listen to samples and order in any format here.
I took this photo last month while wandering around the Cottingley estate in Leeds. There was strange blue dust scattered all over these steps, which, of all the things to be stirred from deep in my memory silt, brought to mind the B-side to Wham!’s ‘Club Tropicana’ single, released way back in the long hot summer of 1983. It ought to be have been something else, something held in higher regard by the self-appointed arbiters of all things “cool”, like New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ for example, but I’m way past caring about that kind of nonsense. I saw this and I thought of Wham! That’s it.
I recently watched T2: Trainspotting (which I really enjoyed) and one moment really stuck with me. Renton and Sick Boy are trying to explain the legend of George Best to Simon’s Bulgarian “dominatrix girlfriend” Veronika. She patiently observes them acting out their childhood fantasies of football glory, and succinctly sums up their predicament: “you’re living in the past.” It brought me up short, alerting me to that which I kind of already knew, that a lot of my thinking – especially in terms of my art – is completely stuck in the past, my past, specifically a period somewhere between the early 1980’s to around the mid-1990’s. That covers my teenage years into my mid-20’s, a period when horizons seem wide open and possibilities are endless. That period comes to an end with the onset of middle-age, when horizons narrow dramatically and you have to start facing the fact that anything you were hoping to have happen is now probably not going to. I suppose my continual returning back to that time – and to the places that time most potently evokes – is an attempt to recapture that feeling of possibility.
I’ve featured Adam Scovell several times before. We seem to share many of the same interests, including an appreciation for Paul Nash at his most ‘esoteric’. On his Celluloid Wicker Man blog he recently published an interesting piece about Nash’s photographic series Monster Field, a project undertaken late in the artist’s life when, according to his biographers, he was too ill to paint any more and resorted to using a camera. In these images, mainly of a fallen tree, we seen Nash sharing the same preoccupation with the bizarre shapes nature offers for artistic exploration as his Neo-Romantic contemporary Graham Sutherland. Sutherland often referred to his paintings of these shapes as ‘stand-ins’, substitutes for human subjects or emotional states. If this is what Nash was doing with Monster Field we can only wonder what state of mind the man was in at the time.
It’s supposed to chuck it down later today so this photograph seemed appropriate. It was taken on Rooms Lane in Morley, where it crosses over the M621 motorway and fades off into farmland that’s slowly being eaten up by the inexorable urban sprawl of Leeds. We used to jump off this bridge onto the grass embankment below, daring each other to see how far along the railings you could go before leaping into the void. Totally mad, I know, but it was all rites of passage stuff for us. Years later I heard that someone we used to go to school had committed suicide off this bridge.
This bench in Hyde Park, Leeds, looks like a prime location for what Iain Sinclair refers to as “drinking schools,” though the gaily decorated bottle banks gave the scene a slightly surreal Tellytubbies vibe.