Disorderly order, the beauty of the useless, the value of contrariness, the joyful project of refusal: there are urgent matters for us now, in a world where even to desire the wonderful – which always and of necessity has its wild component – is seen as an aberration.
John Burnside, I Put A Spell On You
Photograph taken ’round our way’, December 2017.
This is as far as I’ve got with my current painting, as of last Sunday (3 Dec) morning. Progress is slower than I’d hoped, but nevertheless I’m absolutely refusing to compromise on the detail and all of that takes time. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to pull an all-nighter and paint right through until dawn, but if I’m to have it finished by Christmas, that might have to be what is required.
Events trail shadows larger than themselves. Much that people afterwards said about those days came from springs of imagination almost free from the pollution of fact.
R.C. Hutchinson, Elephant And Castle
Photograph taken last year in Bruntcliffe Cemetery, Morley. My secondary school was right next to the cemetery (“that explains a lot” says a voice and, as usual, I don’t listen to it) and we would walk through here on an almost daily basis on lunchtime sojourns into the town centre to check out the girls from Morley High School. That was over thirty years ago now, but it seems more real to me now than whatever nonsense I was caught up in last week.
Human history is a story of severance. We are cut off from the world. And in our mastery and ruination of it even more. The cave paintings say this, J.A. Baker says it, the proceedings of the Royal Society do too. There is no document of civilization that is not also a document of loss. We have been making elegies for ourselves as long as we have known ourselves as long as ourselves.
Photograph taken November 2017. The location was Nepshaw Lane in Morley, Leeds, a little-known short-cut that “in our day” was notorious as a ‘Lover’s Lane’. With the M621 roaring away on one side, and what used to be mostly empty fields and woodlands on the other, it was a secluded spot for doggers, fly-tippers and all manner of ne’er do wells, but that’s all changing. Every time I go back up north, I see the evidence of Leeds’ economic revival (a revival that started just as I moved away in the 1990’s) with every available scrap of land being built upon. Industrial units, housing estates, shops, car parks – a vast fungal sprawl of concrete that is burying much of what I used to know. I’m in danger of sounding like the George Bowling, the protagonist in Orwell’s Coming Up For Air, but it’s not just about a sense of personal loss but a reaction to the spectacle of rats, trapped in a maze, but instead of trying to get out of the maze, they try to make the maze bigger. There isn’t another green world out there somewhere. There’s only this one, and by turning it into something that severs us from it – which modern Western culture absolutely does – we’re stricken with a sense of loss that’s hard to articulate, but, as Tim Dee says in the above quote, in certain writings and art traces of that expression can be found, and they tell us something important.
An austere place, perhaps, withdrawn, some might say desolate. But the silence compels. It is very old silence. It seems to have been sinking slowly down through the sky for numberless centuries, like the slow fall of chalk through the clear Cretaceous sea. It has settled deep. We are under it now, we are possessed by it. When strangers come here, many will say, ‘It’s flat. There is nothing here.’ And they will go away again. But there is something here, something more than the thousands of birds and insects, than the millions of marine creatures. The wilderness is here. To me the wilderness is not a place. It is the indefinable essence or spirit that lives in a place, as shadowy as the archetype of a dream, but real and recognisable. It lives where it can find refuge, fugitive, fearful as a deer. It is rare now. Man is killing the wilderness, hunting it down.
I’ve recently collaborated with the Jurassic Heritage Coast poet-in-residence Sarah Acton. I’ve created the new banner for her WordPress site (above is one of the initial mock-up’s) and have illustrated and designed three covers for an imminent series of poetry collections. More details to follow when the first book in the series is ready for release, when I’ll also unveil the three original drawings used in the designs. Following the success of the Dark Mountain ‘Sanctum’ book, this has been a good year for collaborations and I’m keen to do more.