Joseph Wright is a Wiltshire-based photographer, who believes his work is best experienced in a printed form, via the photobooks he publishes via his own imprint JW Editions. His obsession with countryside and the edgelands where it collides with the human urban environment is one that I share, which explains why I responded so strongly to his work when I first saw it. His photograph (above) from the 2012-14 series The Floods reminds me a lot of my 2014 painting ‘The Dark Turmoil’:
which remains the proposed cover for Black Water:
a project between myself and Martin Jones that’s been festering in the darkness of our imaginations for too long now and must one day soon see the light of day. Joseph’s work has reignited my enthusiasm for the project, which I’ll just have to the growing list of things I need to get done before the sweet embrace of death takes me. In the meantime, I strongly recommend further study of Joseph Wright’s photography and books. A new exhibition of his latest work – Cubby’s Tarn – opens 18 October at Grizedale Forest Centre, Hawkshead, Cumbria.
I’m not one to covet material possessions but J.A. Baker‘s The Peregrine is one of my favourite books, and this dust cover for the first U.S. edition is a beautiful example of classic book cover design. I’d love to get hold of a copy.
The contract of the myth teller is to get a group into as deep a place as you possibly can. In other words, into the arena of ritual. To the bottom of the well if you’re going to use a fairy tale term. But you are contractually obliged to get them out again. That doesn’t mean you say, “Ah, you know, and then it was just a dream and then everybody woke up and la, la, la.” It’s not that. It’s not that. And it’s not quite hope either. Or if it is hope, it’s a very sophisticated version. But to some degree, you do not leave people in the wound of the story as if that alone is enough. Because it isn’t enough. Your wound does not edify the gods…I meet a lot of folks these days and I say that they are experiencing what I call the seduction of the wound. If you’re growing up in an anaesthetised culture where nothing really is happening, to get in touch with something that feels painful feels truthful.
‘The seduction of the wound.’ Finally, I have a term for what I’ve seen going on around me for such a long time, but lacked the means to adequately express it. We absolutely do live in an ‘anaesthetised culture’ in which very little of real meaning occurs. As Alan Moore, another myth-telling sage, observes, in contemporary Western culture, “meaning has a very short half-life”, and people living in a meaningless environment will inevitably come to the conclusion that they themselves are meaningless, and to assuage the pain of that recognition they turn to all kinds of destructive behaviour, earning physical and psychic scars along the way. In All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy wrote: “scars have the strange power to remind us that out past is real.” As if we had no other means of understanding that everything that happened to us wasn’t just a dream or a half-remembered film from long ago. Instead of scars and wounds, raw and bleeding, or scabbed over but itching away naggingly under the crust, why can’t we make our own notches on the wand of experience, ones that help us to better understand who we were, who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going.
So, yes, I like what Martin Shaw has to say. I’ve written about the Westcountry School of Myth before, but my commentary at the time was tinged a residue of cynical reserve, a cynicism that you often see in comments on the man’s interviews that this is all privileged middle class hippy drivel, and cannot be taken seriously by people who have to get up of a morning and do “proper” jobs. It’s precisely that kind of attitude that exemplifies for me the ‘seduction of the wound’. Too many people accept the way they’ve been told it is, and refuse to look beyond that and dream up and work towards an alternative way of living. I’m past that kind of cynicism now. I’m prepared to listen openly and without prejudice to a man who looks like a salad days Santa banging on a bongo and telling strange Jackanory stories about fox women and firebirds. I like what he has to say and find many of his insights to be thought provoking and sometimes profound. The last time I experienced such an inquisitive and intelligent mind was when I first read Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, so in my esteem Shaw is in good company. I’m currently reading his book A Branch Of The Lightning Tree and in it he explores four different myths that seem to offer ways of understanding the times we live in. He takes a similar approach to that of Joseph Campbell, but is more immersive in his methods, and expresses his findings in a language that’s as full-blooded, playful, sensuous and strange as the best poets. I’ve been seeking something like this for a long time now, both personally and in relation to my art, and I’m hoping this puts me on the verge of a long-overdue developmental change.
Further to previous posts, this is how far I’ve got with the first painting in my series based on the W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’. The background has been greatly improved, simply by letting more of the sky in, and should not require much more work before that aspect is done. This weekend it’s the fine details on the feathers, then the talons, then the rock, and this will be a finished painting.
I’m happy in my own unhappy way. We have to acquire a distance – artistic, monetary, sexual – from the brutal meaninglessness of life. This is the game of appearance.
Pollock-esque graffiti found in M621 underpass, Churwell, June 2017