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  • Let Go and Get on With It

    At the risk of sounding pious, I want to start this New Year blog by citing the first of the ten commandments: “You must have no other gods besides me”. In other words, “Do not be owned by anything besides that which is of the most supreme importance”. You might want to fill in your own blank there, but you get the point. In earthly terms that is about keeping a grip on the right stuff, and if you are anything like me, you are always prone to getting sidetracked and seduced by the next ADOhShiney thing! This is the New Year Challenge! And it is a problem because, at the very least, the things that distract me, keep me away from the main thing and disrupt my focus. These distractions can get me stuck in habits of all kinds that I would be better off without, and worse still, they can make me miserable and unproductive. This blog is about an imperative telling me not to get snagged or caught up in anything that is not of ultimate importance. As a good friend once said to me: “Keep the main thing the main thing!” The lesser gods have a small ‘g; for a reason. They demand our attention, but ultimately deliver fake rewards and are best avoided. The point is that in life, especially in creative live, there are traps that are detrimental to one’s work, one’s mental health, one’s productivity and ultimately one’s happiness. These traps, or lesser gods, are what I want to write about here. There is a very good reason why the first commandment comes first, and that is because it is about priorities. The first priority, if one is to be happy and productive, is to know precisely what the main priority is and to have it firmly held in one’s focus. I am currently writing an essay about ‘Play as a Creative Strategy’ as part of an MA course in Sound Design. Therein is the inference that if one wants to be successfully creative one might have a strategy. Or put another way; it is possible to be strategic about how one approaches creativity and creative work. Play on the other hand, infers an ad hoc less guided approach. For this reason play is regarded differently to work because it is not licensed by reference to any external objective. It exists by rights on it’s own terms. It is also considered to be the province of childhood and much of the research done into the subject in done under the heading of pedagogy and child psychology. For that reason, perhaps, the idea of play is disparaged and used as a counterpoint to the idea of work. Hence “Are you doing this seriously (i.e. working) or just playing?”. Play may be thought of as a permissive activity. There may or not be rules and any rules that do emerge can be made up on the fly. As such play is a domain in which new and surprising discoveries are made. To take a Darwinian slant, there can be no evolution without play. Play, permits chance variation, or mutation, without which, all we have is a reiteration of a previous outcomes. For something to be considered new, and therefore created or the product of creative activity, it must represent a break or evolution from the past. That is not to say that new outcomes cannot be based upon new combinations of old ideas and formulations. Such is the nature of progress in that it has its roots in the past. But play is a very serious matter and a necessary process and activity that facilitates forward trajectory. It should not be trivialised. Here we are juxtaposing the ideas of work, play, creativity and productivity and strategy. So what of the title at the top: “Letting go”? What’s the point? The point is, that one’s formulations and strategies in creative work, are ultimately only successful if you can let go of distractions. To do it well, you need to know what the game is, and the game is to get to the meaningful stuff by the quickest and most direct route available. And there we have another idea: meaning, linked to priorities and focus. Victor Frankel said that love was the highest purpose of man and that without love, life is meaningless. I would say the same is true for any creator. Work without love is meaningless. In the words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, ’Without love I am a clanging gong’. Art is about expressing joy, (I think). It is the hallmark of human culture. Joy is inextricable from any idea of ‘play’. Play is meant to be joyful, as it is also meant to be playful i.e. fun, permissive, unedited, spontaneous. It may be measured as productive by what it brings to your heart and soul. Information may come to the mind after one has reflected upon the outcome of one’s playful experience. But ultimately, if there is no joy or bounce in one’s play, then it will not be play at all. It will just be a dull, monotone chore of an activity. And here are bracketed together the ideas of love, play and joy. Suddenly this sounds like I might also be talking about sex! - but I am not talking about sex here, I am talking about Art, although I am sure the same principles apply. Maybe that is a subject for another blog! Enough confusion for one day! Another very old friend of mine (all my friends are old) said to me, ‘How does one experience love? Do we experience love by giving or receiving it?” The answer is obvious. I believe the same is true in Art. If we cannot create with love, then ultimately we will run dry. It is what we bring to it that counts. John Cage talked of chasing the energy. Without energy all is as flat as a fizzy drink with no fizz. Without fizz, what is the point? For work to have fizz, it must come from a full place. An empty place can only produce echoes and reverberations. This blog is about the things that steal our fizz. If I am distracted, or creating work through some sense of obligation, if I am anxious, or doing it for money or because I think this is what people will buy, I am subtracting from that energy by degrees. Ultimately the pot runs dry. That’s why we talk of first love, and regaining the passion of one’s youth. Somehow it all gets overgrown and weeded over. “Do not be owned by anything”, means being true to one’s original instinct. Not being tempted, like Pinnochio, to run off to the circus at every whim. And why am I telling this story? Well, it has become apparent that I am not presently painting - anything! I think it may be a matter of confidence, but it may also be a lack of reward or a curiosity about my new passion which entails Sound Design and music production. It’s true to say, that if you love something, the only way to really let it go is to love something else more, and I do love what I am doing now. I think that in this flush of new discovery, I will ultimately regain my steady feet at the painting wall in my studio. Two years of covid, a difficult market and a brush with serious illness have all had their part to play. I am indeed privileged that I can take the course that I am currently on, and indulge myself to the point of just being able to go wherever my creative interest takes me. I remain proactive and busy as ever, and I am preoccupied with my ‘work’ all the time. As an artist, you cannot ever really just park your work and walk away from it, except by deliberate intention, so one is obliged to love it or be miserable. It follows you around all the time. But I do find I need time away from the work to process, to let the juices ferment, and to be able to come back to the it again and re-evaluate. Sometimes to rework, sometimes to preserve the initial gesture. I have lost all my best pieces by working over them. Sometimes it just works first time. Usually the first marks or notes of the day are the best. One should not be too quick to paint over the initial gesture. Time is a great tool. The thing is to know how to navigate it, and work sometimes takes years to find it’s right place in the archive of one’s fabricated oeuvre. And it finds it’s place just by being left alone. So what about you? What are your weeds and snares? What are your tangles? And what do you love? You might want time to take a minute’s pause here to try and think your way through that, so I am going leave the next couple of paragraphs blank…. …. So what? If your well is dry, and you have not tended to the tributaries of your enthusiasm, it is time to get back to the joy of your first experience and remember how it was when you first fell in love with your chosen medium or metier. The part where you were so taken up with the freshness of it all and so excited that you didn’t stop to think about where it was taking you or what others might think. You were propelled forwards at a rate of knots by your naive enthusiasm. That is the kind of pure energy that makes great work. It might appear strange at first, but without that sense of novelty and excitement, the work is flat and meaningless. We each have to find our own meaning. It can’t be given to you. And if you take meaning from any of those lesser gods which we mentioned here in passing, you will not own the work in its truest sense. You will not be its author. Your work will be authored by a third party or a deferred and deflected source. It must come from the heart, or else I’m afraid it probably won’t cut it. So get the other gods out of the way and love what you do because you love it. THE END. [Photo credit: the author. An island in the Weddell Sea]

  • Summer Spectrum

    It’s hot - forty degrees in fact. A temperature which is bound to set the blood racing. Red. A bit of blue might cool us down. But there is a lot more to colour than hue. In spite of the present heat wave, everyone who has spent any time in Blighty will know that August, allegedly the peak of the British summer holiday season, will tell you that this can also be one of the wettest months of the year. If it weren’t so then we would not live in quite such a green and pleasant land. That said, my lawn is currently turning a particular shade of yellowy brown; not including the bits the dog has dug up: these are a slightly darker shade of earth brown; a bit like the type of brown that one may have found on a Mk1 Spitfire during the Battle of Britain. And here I am reminded of the crisp aquamarine blue sky, filled with criss cross vapour trails that wove together the story of mortals locked in winged combat. So there really is more to the summer spectrum than red and other associated ‘hot’ colours. Evening golds, lush greens and luminescent turquoises are all there if you know where to look. The paintings featured in this show are all about light and luminosity as well as saturation and haze. They are based on images from recent trips to Lundy Island, the Isle of Man, and the Calf of Man. You never know what you are going to get when you start out on a new creative project, but here they are. Six new paintings that tell another chapter in the story of my ongoing fascination with colour, light and landscape. They will be on show at Twenty-Twenty Gallery in Ludlow from 23rd July to 27th August. Gallery website details here:

  • Total Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

    Sometimes it is enough to listen to the wind and the leaves; to feel a cool breeze on one’s face or the kiss of warm sunshine. Sometimes, as part of the human condition, it is natural to express deep dissatisfaction or longing. A material desire, a longing for satisfaction in a relationship, a hunger for something that is intangible and unattainable. In general we are pretty good at getting our needs met and this is how our primal creative core drives us as we move through our artistic career and life’s various chapters. Artists long for satisfaction. Sometimes it is elusive. Sometimes it is fleeting. Rarely is it substantial or long lasting. Sometimes the drive towards satisfaction leads only to despair or simple ennui. Once you have something, a thing, a success, or badge of honour, you may find you don’t need it as much as you thought you might when you didn’t have it. I have just spent the last week working with the Bath Society of Artists as they put together their 117th show. Last Sunday was the selection day. Friday was the grand opening and yesterday was the first day for the public to view the show and the first day for handing back work to those that were not selected. I was asked by several disappointed artists for some kind of comment or reason why the work was not selected. I had to explain that there was no single rational cause. That the selection is done by a committee of nine and often the split of the votes was five to four. Rarely was it unanimous. This answer helped some but others remained perplexed. I have two pieces in the show. I am guaranteed one because I am a member. Sometimes that is all I get. I have been accepted and rejected by the Royal Academy. The first time I was ecstatic. The second time not so much. I have friends who you might consider really successful and highly regarded artists. One is bored with the idea of painting. Another continues to paint but remains disappointed with his most intimate personal relationships. He said a profound thing. That artists are very susceptible to the fairy tale myths that career success and romantic love will bring happiness. I think it is true that we are a wistful bunch and probably very prone to bouts of longing. It is a very two edged thing. Without that we remain static. Too much, with too little satisfaction can lead to unhappy results. One particular conversation with an artist collecting rejected work stands out. A man with young children and his wife came to collect his piece. It was an intriguing work. A digitally conjured image. I would have liked to have seen it in the show. The man had a feeling that somehow the selection was stacked against him. He had put many hours into this work. Both he and his wife explained that they could not afford to spend such time on work and have it rejected. I ran through all the explanations listed above. I wanted to say that we are not the only game in town and that perhaps there were other shows where he might achieve success. I didn’t think it wise to say that out loud and I am not sure whether he and his wife went away with any feeling of satisfaction with my answers although it was a friendly enough parting. I wish it could have been different. As ever, there are some great artworks in the rejects corridor and some on the walls that I personally - and forty percent of the selection panel - would change. It is nonetheless, apparently, a great show. Several people have already told me they think it is the best BSA show they have seen. Some are satisfied and others not. I long for the day when all selection is unanimous and everyone is happy with the result. I suspect that will never happen. And now the sweet summer rain is falling outside my window, rattling against the leaves in the garden. My wife is driving up to Yorkshire with our old dog and new puppy in the car. I will be satisfied when I know they have arrived safely.

  • Art and Dreams

    I have just produced a small batch of paintings for the Russell Gallery to take to the soon upcoming Battersea Spring Art Fair in London and have been asked to write a few words. It is a good excuse to double up and create a new blog entry. It is about time! So here goes. I will try to be brief. Some prefer to set out with an idea in mind and the outcome is fixed before the artist begins. I don’t know what my paintings are about until I sit down to reflect upon what has happened. It is only after the event that that I come to see what these pictures are describing. One knows the process and we have played this game before, but the outcome is never assured. Like dreams, these stories come in whispers that are easily forgotten. They need to be treated and handled with tenderness if their fragmented and elusive details are not to be lost before they gel into a coherent narrative. It is only in looking back the I can see how the weather, the trees, the animals in the landscape, have all been part of my recent experience. Some of this experience consists of a fully conscious awareness of my physical surroundings. Some of it is conjured from the narrative of my dreams. These dreams run like a parallel story to my waking reality. The paintings are not literal illustrations of these dreams, but they have the same vibe and I think they tell the same story. Similarly, the variations in the weather that I have observed while making these pictures are an essential part of the narrative. The colours reflect the changing of the seasons. As I write, we are in the grips of a red weather warning. Leaves and loose branches are being stripped from the trees and the dogs are happy to stay indoors. Then the weather passes and the sky is still, crisp and blue. These are all moments which somehow go together to make a story. I try to write a narrative about each piece, and in this process I find that new things are revealed to me. I say to myself: ‘That’s where I was…’ . It is a revelatory experience. The Battersea London Spring Art Fair runs from the 10th to the 13th of March 2022.

  • Antarctica - an anecdotal summary

    Antarctic Trip on HMS Protector What an amazing trip! I was fortunate enough to join the ship at the Falklands and had a few days acquainting myself with the ship and crew, and seeing local sights. I was immediately made to feel very welcome and was assigned the previous 2i/c’s cabin which had a desk, TV and en suite! The chefs managed to accommodate my vegetarian preference and I was also inducted into the vices of the ship’s tuck shop for supplemental biscuits and sweet items. The marines on board supplied cold weather gear, although in the end I had most of what I needed. Their thick woolly socks were probably the most prized item. From my own store I valued the Dachstein mitts which had fold over fingers which made handling the camera in the cold much easier. Gypsy Cove Near Port Stanley The first ice berg. Bizarrely similar to one I had already painted! The crossing of the Drakes Passage was choppy and upper decks were out of bounds. My most dramatic memory of that is an episode in the galley which happened at the end of the Marines’ cold weather brief. The ship pitched forward and then the bow lurched upwards sending furniture, cups of tea and bodies flying. Everything in the kitchen also ended up all over the place. Our first landfall was King George Island and we took on two BAS scientists who had been camping out collecting fossils. The Captain assured me that this scenery was nothing compared to what we were about to witness further south, but already the scale and the majesty of the landscape was impressing itself upon me. A couple of views of King George Island Next, on to Deception Island. The quiet inlet in the centre of the Island was pond like in it’s stillness. Here we explored the decimated remains of the Norwegian whaling station at Whalers’ Bay. Fur seals and gulls were now it’s only inhabitants. There were three graves to mark the memory of those who had perished there. Whaler's Bay, Deception Island From there we continued to the tip of the peninsula and here a wonderland of ice opened up for us. Highlights included the Lemaire Channel and the Neumayer and Peltier Channels. The latter was previously unsurveyed and we were the first large ship to sail it’s vertiginous rocky corridor through the ice. Scenes from the Lemaire, Peltier and Neumayer Channels Ink illustrations of rocky pinnacles and an iceberg On looking at time lapse footage of our transit through the Lemaire Channel it became apparent that an avalanche had occurred and sent a huge ball of snow crashing towards the sea just ahead of us. Entrance to the Lemaire Channel Whales became part of the scenery to. Mostly as distant slumbering logs with occasional water spouts. However, out best sighting was near Anvers Island when a pod of at least half a dozen Orcas played around the ship for about an hour. In between channel transits we saw immense ice bergs; on apparently the size of Bristol! The scale of these objects had to be seen to be believed. One of the enduring memories I have is of the dark light created by a strong low overcast of snow cloud. This made photographs extremely moody and different from the stereotypical blue skies I had come to expect. We were spared that overcast at Port Lockroy however. Here a team climbed a mountain peak, whilst the Captain indulged in some SUP boarding on the chilly waters. There were Leopard seals there and we watched a few unlucky penguins become prey. For the rest of us, we posted cards home and enjoyed socialising with the staff who ran the base whilst admiring the quirks of the local penguins. A Gentoo Penguin at Port Lockroy with HMS Protector in the background. There were other base visits and I was lucky to step ashore on an Argentinian base, which turned out to be unmanned. I did visit Palmer Station, a US base. I did an ink drawing of the base viewed from the ship and have left this with Captain Syrett to present to the base on a future visit. Before you know it, we are travelling north again, back through the LeMaire Channel and in towards to Weddel Sea for some icebreaking. We travel thorough wildernesses of ice and sea innumerable seals, whales and penguins. The dark light from the overcast continues to add drama to the scene. Icebreaking Ink Illustration of an island in the Erebus and Terror Gulf en route to Weddell Sea. Here I was inspired to draw a cartoon strip for the ship featuring the penguins as they run across the ice to escape the breaker end of the ship. They are animated in why seems to be a comically human fashion. After the ice breaking came our last highlight. A truly humbling experience as I was allowed to be one of a party aboard a Zodiac that attempted to land on Elephant Island at the exact spot from where Shackleton’s men were rescued. We were unable to get ashore and it did appear that the small shingle beach which was there a hundred years ago had been washed away. Nonetheless, it was on this tiny spur of land, no more than 30 feet across, that they survived those months. I have no idea how they did it. Shackleton's landing photographed from a pitching Zodiac From there we enjoyed a smooth transit back across the Drakes Passage, arriving eventually at Montevideo. There was a military band awaiting our arrival followed by cocktail festivities in the evening. I stayed on in Montevideo accompanied by the contingent from BAS and flew home a few days later. I should say the best thing about being away is coming home, and it is, but the thought at the top of my list, is how to get back there again! I would like to express my heart felt thanks to Captain Syrett and all the crew of HMS Protector for their companionship and support whilst I was on the ship, and of course to Bonham's and the Friends of The Scott Polar Institute for making the trip possible. Thank you all!

  • Here and Now - or - Why Is my Studio So Messy?

    Focusing on the here and now is generally regarded as a good thing. Art that is happening now is interesting, stimulating and can occupy and satisfy our whole attention. In growing up, I was always interested in music that was happening now and tended to disregard anything that had become mainstream or popular. However, in art especially, it has taken me about half a century to realise that context is everything. Without knowledge of time and place, what has happened before or elsewhere, or how the future might take shape, it is difficult to know the value of one's work. This is underlined for me by the fact that whatever else you try to control or dictate about your work, the one thing you have absolutely no control over is the time and place you are born in. This makes awareness of the context in which you are working absolutely imperative. To be unaware is to be blind, to some degree or other. Then the question is, how far do you set your net? Homo Sapiens has become the topic of popular discussion with the publication of Yuval Noah Harari's books on the subject of our past and future. Other writers, like Max Tegmark in 'Life 3.0' or Nick Bostrum in 'Superintelligence' speak of futures that would have the Futurists of the early 20th century stopping in disbelief. As Robert Hughes famously said in The Shock Of The New, "Nothing dates faster than a vision of the future". And he was right. Looking at the chaos that has been caused by our recent burgeoning into technological wealth and the precipitating climate change and population explosion, one might have to suggest that maybe the Luddites were on to something. Maybe our drive to war masks a powerful urge which comes from a deeper awareness that resources, time and space are finite and there is only so much to go around? The instinct for survival is the same instinct that drives us towards competition, war and perhaps ultimately towards either progress or extinction. So where do you go to get perspective on these issues? If you look at the news, which is all about now, the one thing you can say about it is, that it is not just global, but universal. Our reach as a species will bring in information from the farthest imaginable reaches of the Hubble Space envelope. Go back a hundred years and your news came from the explorers of the poles, or soldiers fighting for King and Country in unpronounceable locations. Home meant one thing. Away meant something else; and whichever place you found yourself in, you may well have been forgiven for wishing that you were in the other. So Homo Sapien's culture has always been about moving, migration, gathering resources and sustaining material and physical fluidity. In the process we have outcompeted countless other species, starting with our nearest evolutionary kin, Homo Erectus and the Neanderthals. I am certain that this process will continue for wealthy, highly selected minorities who will benefit from  privileged access to technology, medical science and controlled environments whilst the rest of our species will inevitably decline. In the face of this evolution, desirable for some, undesirable for many, and which seems to have little to do with empathy or sentiment, both of which are core attributes of humans and apparently many higher animals, is Art relegated to the realm of sentiment or aesthetic artefact creation? The twentieth century told its own story through Art. Landscape and portrait gave way to abstraction and in literature, coherent prose gave way to the ramblings of the Beat poets. Pop gave way to Punk. Ambient gave way to Noise. In every case there seems to be a move towards dis-integration or entropy. This is natural and is probably a fair reflection of what was going on. It is interesting to note that art from previous centuries largely focussed on an aesthetic of fashion, decoration and wealth. Artists which we pick out as having paid attention to the common place, visceral or violent are few and far between. I am thinking of Goya, Turner or Caravaggio. Interesting to note, this is probably the seat of the current popular appeal of Van Gogh and the same reason why he was rejected by the bourgeois collectors of his time. Perhaps that is why, as students, I and most of my contemporaries dismissed art before the 20th century as irrelevant and unappealing. Even today, such works seem to be the provenance of rich and wealthy collectors, which kind of under scores the point. Banksy's recent stunt with the self shredding picture is all about this very issue. That the peripheral chaos implied by the ordering of the picture plane is directed at the buyer. After all, who said should all the suffering be borne by the artist? Guess who was laughing all the way to the bank on that day? It is a fundamental law of nature that organisation in one place leads to disorganisation in another.   Maybe that's why, when I am working my studio becomes so messy! If this sounds silly, it has been written about by none other than Erwin Schrodinger, of quantum mechanic and cat fame. In his 1944 book What's Life?, he postulated that: "a hallmark of a living system is that it maintains or reduces its entropy by increasing the entropy around it. In other words, the second law of thermodynamics has a loophole: although the total entropy must increase, it's allowed to decrease in some places as long as it increases even more elsewhere. So life maintains or increases its complexity by making its environment messier." Max Tegmark, Life 3.0. So Homo Sapiens carved rocks and doodled on walls and invented religious and mystical ceremonies, probably in a direct attempt to create some semblance of inner order in the face of an untameable, deadly and chaotic nature. Because nature itself is as much a part of the general order of construction and disintegration of matter and being as the physical output of man. The difference is, that now we are approaching 9 billion individuals our influence is geologically decisive. In 10000 BC we numbered about a million. Life was teeming. You could take a gazelle and know that there were plenty more to be had. The rules have changed because we have become so populous. Not for nothing is this becoming known as the Anthropocene age. So we grow, we develop cities, technology and meanwhile it seems inevitable that at the edges of that process we see the detritus of entropy; in slums, in extinction of species or in climate change. I would like to ask Mr Schrodinger, at what point will the chaos outside my bubble start to fight its way back in and grow to such an increasing extent that the order I have created is in turn overwhelmed. As I write, my studio floor is covered with items in various stages of unpack and disassembly in process for preparing to leave for Antarctica in about ten days time. The chaos seems an inevitable prelude my orderly departure. There is nowhere to stand. But I can sit in my chair and put my feet on the floor and hence write this blog. I am reminded of photos of Francis Bacon's studio - although he was seriously messy! And what happens next? The artwork is taken out and put into an Art Gallery. White, sterile and very tidy! People should be made to climb over piles of detritus just to get a look at it!! Rothko and Van Gogh did themselves in (unless you believe he was murdered) whilst trying to make sense of their inner chaos, in beautifully structured paintings. Is this not the same law applied? Yes, by the way I am going to Antarctica. It is very tidy down there - unless you are in the middle of a seal or penguin colony. I am going to live in a very tidy cabin on a very tidy ship. In the mean time, if you want to see my work, I have an exhibition at Twenty Twenty Gallery in Ludlow, featuring fellow polar artists Nick Jones and Shelly Perkins.

  • A Country Of The Mind: notes for an exhibition at Twenty Twenty Gallery

    A Country Of The Mind - notes for an exhibition of Art exploring Polar Landscapes. What follows here is a piece of contextual writing for an upcoming show at Twenty Twenty Gallery in Ludlow, opening on Saturday 2nd February, 2019. When I was seven years old I did a school project on Australia. I wrote to Australia House and received a ton of maps and pamphlets which I cut up and stuck in a book with captions and bits of writing. With all it's gigantic out-there-ness, koala bears, gum trees and emus, I thought it must have a wonderful place. But the thing which attracted me the most, was the roadside barbecue. In every lay-by, even in the middle of nowhere, you could park up and enjoy a delicious barbecue! At that time in my life, I don't think I had ever been to a barbecue. I loved the idea that wherever you were driving to, in the middle of nowhere (which was also an idea I liked the sound of very much), you could pull over and have a barbecue. Oh most exotic of pleasures! Perhaps that is just the way the mind of a child works; well this one at least. Years later, I would be walking up mountains, with groups of bedraggled and straggling teenagers, my son included, encouraging them with a promise of a McDonalds at the top, or maybe just over the next ridge. The usual response was "Really??", half wishful and half disbelieving. Perhaps in the middle of nowhere there is an actual barbecue or fast food restaurant? Like Douglas Adam's famed "Restaurant At The End Of The Universe"? There is a cafe at the top of Snowden and bases at McMurdo, Rothera and the South Pole are reputed to be relatively comfortable. Then of course there is Scott's hut, which was at least more luxurious than the upturned boat, under which Shackleton's men successfully sheltered whilst awaiting extraction from Elephant Islan I haven't stopped dreaming about places in the middle of nowhere, just as I am sure those marooned men of Shackleton's crew dreamed of home. But the first pictures of what I thought was "the North", did not happen until my fifth decade. I had read Barry Lopez's "Arctic Dreams" some thirty years earlier in my twenties, and I had been to Canada, walked in the Rockies and seen the Northern Lights. Yet the remote north of the fjords and ice remained as mysterious to me as Terra Incognita might have once been to explorers of bygone ages. Working phenomenologically, i.e. making it up as I went along, I found myself painting blue abstracts and scenes that I named after places I had heard of in the shipping forecast. At that time, my main inspiration was the sky and the weather in the place where I lived. High up on a ridge with views for miles in any direction. But I knew better than to pastiche the skies I was looking at. Nature is too fierce a competitor and too royal to be treated thus. There was something else that needed to be attained or crystallised if I was to create work that expressed my longing for its perceived majesty. I think musicians, like Grieg, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Gubaidulina or Tveitt, would have known this and expressed it beautifully in the abstraction of their music. In the world of visual art, however, it is not that simple. Photography works, but painting is much harder. In either case, a deductive approach always leads to something less than the thing imagined. Back to the subject of my own Arctic Dreams, I knew that somewhere in that idea was a place I longed for. It felt like a place of solace as much as it was also perhaps a sign for heartbreak, or at least, longing stretched to breaking point. So came from me, these pictures of somewhere else. Maybe somewhere I had been in my dreams, or a lost memory, or something invented. I didn't know, neither did I care to explain. I enjoyed not knowing. As the picture unfolded, it explained itself, and my job was simply to explore, divine and amplify. Of course, it came from me, but this feeling of something 'other' emerging, as if it came from somewhere else, at once dignified and justified the process. It felt like its own process of discovery. My first painting of a fjord won the RWS Exhibitions Award, and I joked with my friend Malcolm Ashman when he won a similar award with a painting of the same name at the following annual RWS exhibition a year later. How amusing it was that his abstracted piece should come out of his direct experience of Norway, a place I had, hitherto, not visited! The story continues in that after exhibiting a couple more of these paintings with the RSMA, I received an email circular concerning a residency in Antarctica with the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute. I looked at it, and said, "I am going to do that". I applied and I was offered the chance to go . I can't say I was surprised, but nevertheless, I did drive over to Cambridge to visit the SPRI just to make sure that it was not a hoax! I can report that I was reassured: "No, we are definitely sending you to Antarctica". And so, events took their turn; from making these pictures ex nihilo, I found myself being invited, by the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute, to visit and expand my work from actual experience of these hitherto imagined places. For this artist, it would seem, reality begins in the mind and imagination. Since then, I have met other artists on the FoSPRI programme, including Shelley Perkins, Nick Romeril and Julian Grater, amongst others. I am humbled to be in their company. As if all this were not sufficient repayment for the imagining of a far away landscape, my wife, Celia, and I were recently married, with minimal planning, on a trip to Greenland thanks to a short notice opportunity that came to us via the unexpected offices and undeserved friendship of the famous polar explorer, David Hempleman-Adams. This was a trip I had been musing about for years, but never expected to actually materialise. Apart from the odd trip over the Severn Bridge, I had, until recently, visited fewer countries than I have fingers on my left hand! Travel was all about a country imagined, read about, or dreamed of. That didn't make it any less potent, but it is different from the experience one has when actually visiting a place. I listened recently to Geoff Dyer talking on the Radio 4 about what he called 'literary pilgrimages'. His point was that such places could actually be quite disappointing and that the arrival was an experience of disillusionment. I think that is an experience shared by many travellers to far places. Hence, perhaps, the names given to such places as "Derelict Junction" at McMurdo, Deception Island, or Exasperation Inlet. And yet, paradoxically, these are places that conjure romance as much as they signify hardship, madness or disappointment. Such is love, is life, and so it would seem, exploration of remote icy places. I have imagined and painted some of these places. Perhaps in my life I have experienced some of these feelings too, in romances ending in disappointments, or in ambitions unfulfilled or projects or ideals abandoned. Always, the longing for home is a consistent and persistent theme in all these travels. Far away and close to, these places are a nest or a barren waste. Whatever else they are, they provide a context for the life and journey of the heart. Heartless, wasteland, deserted islands. The human explorer is compelled to experience them all, because he compulsively acquisitive, curious and restless. Why else would he leave home unless compelled to do so by some darker, romantic drive? The urge to travel, for Scott and the RGS, even Shackleton or Mallory, was tainted by images of a noble, fragmenting Empire, an escape from the ennui of home, and the call to something 'other', which thereby conferred a sense of significance upon the journey and the traveller. It was worth pitting oneself against a foe such as nature, for the sake of these things. And so, Cook and Franklin, Barents and Magellan all travelled, with more or less equal portions of hope and despair. And so it was when I returned from Greenland last summer, with a few sketches and over 3500 photographs. How do I begin to make images of what I have seen? The country of the mind is not the same as the observed world. Speaking with Nick Jones, another Polar artist featured in the Twenty-Twenty exhibition, who recently visited the shores of Baffin Island, he said he did not think he would make any sketches whilst he was away, but preferred to look, and experience directly without the impedance of a tertiary agent, like a sketchbook. And so he keeps his romance alive and his paintings remain beautifully expressive in their evocation of this 'other' place. The following image is one of beautiful Nick's paintings. "Cape Hope". Since being awarded the FoSPRI Antarctic Residency, I have traveled to Greenland and am shortly to visit Norway. If you had said to me twelve months ago that I would shortly be visiting both polar regions as a result of made up images inspired by books and the shipping forecast, I would have scarcely believed you. But here it is. A mixture of made up and observed landscapes. Unlike our predecessor explorers, we have new and different reasons for extending our experience of the poles. Our planet is changing fast, and our own mortality, as a species, is coming fast to the fore as an issue for clear consideration. The polar landscape is changing fast. What will man lose, if, or indeed, when, the ice melts away completely? Perhaps then it really will become a country of the mind, and all we will be able to do is dream about it, just as we now dream of woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers. We know for sure that these places will not be there, as they are now, for future generations, unless by some miracle, we get our collective proverbial in gear and halt, or at least slow the process which has created the climate change catastrophe which we now face. Already, vast sheets which have taken billions of years to form, have slipped away in a matter of just a few decades. With each season, huge ancient glaciers are marching in reverse to their source. The images such as those showing at Twenty Twenty Gallery from 2nd February 2019, along with those being made by other contemporary artists and photographers elsewhere across the planet, may soon be all that we have left of such places.

  • Home:

    Home This is a transcript of a talk I delivered to the Bath Society Of Artists on Thursday 27th October 2018 about the idea of “Home”, reflected in Art and the drive to Polar exploration and war, around the turn of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. There is a slide presentation to go with this, which can be seen here: Home always implies the notion of return. It is a basic musical concept in that a movement is initiated, it develops, reaches a crescendo or resolution and returns to the original theme and ending. The cycle of life and death is implied. Creation and ending are all there along with everything that goes on in between. I think that is probably what home is about. And I think that art reflects that also, and each is a vessel in which the reciprocal former is found. I hope to explore this concept, and to show how different artists have worked in the context of the historic events which occurred in their time. I cannot hope to mention every artist that has made his mark on that journey through time, so I hope you will be satisfied with some abstracts and they won't all necessarily be connected in a linear time wise fashion. Earth Rise: Taken in 1968 by US astronaut Bill Anders, on a Hasselblad 500 - the same camera that I bought my son for his 18th birthday. It's a rhetorical shot of us looking back at our selves - or our home. It is the first colour shot but not the first ever, which was taken robotically in 1966 by a Lunar Orbiter and beamed back to earth as a crude black and white raster. Declared by Galen Rowell as "The most influential environmental photograph ever taken." So that establishes a starting point. Planet Earth is where the drama of out story works itself out. You can see that it is a beautiful yet finite object held in the unimaginably huge theatre of space. What stories unfold, what stories can we tell and what kind of future can we expect? How is this mirrored in the story of art and human culture. Slides 3: The thing to notice about these images is that they are not purely utilitarian. The cupules or carved hollows are thought to date back to 700,000 BCE. "The replication of cupules helped us in understanding that their creation on hard quartzite rock is an incredibly long, arduous and labor-consuming task, involving literally tens of thousands of strokes with hammer stones. The struck rock being very hard, the hammer stone rebounds with equal force with each stroke, and gives a powerful jolt in the shoulder of the worker, especially in the creation of large circular cupules and cupules with conical sections. Hence, a person attempting the replication of cupules must have sufficient physical strength, commitment, stamina and patience. In this work, we only used hammer stones of the kind found in the excavation at DC; its cupules were created long before the introduction of metal tools." citation Manual of Cupule Replication Technology Giriraj Kumar 1,* and Ram Krishna 2 Faculty of Arts, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Dayalbagh, Agra 282005, India 2 (EE), MBA, Faculty of Management, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Dayalbagh, Agra 282005, India By way of contrast, the spear heads, also from 70,000 BCE, clearly are. These images show petroglyphs - painted and carved, which are at least celebratory, certainly mysterious. They are indicative of a self reflective and expressive consciousness making a mark. I would argue that, sacred or not, this 'making a mark is about self as much as it is about home. It is about marking out a context for self, and I would argue that that is what 'home' is all about. It is a context for belonging, for developing personal awareness, ritual, belief, love and relationships, and a cause for work - be that making, building, hunting etc; in short, all the things that bring life meaning. This is what defines our humanity and marks us out as different from all other evolving primates - the ability for make a mark. I am not suggesting that other animals don't have language or means of symbolic and literal communication, but without wanting to get side tracked into a discussion about anthropomorphism and the status of other species of animals, the recording of this language is what makes us different. This is really where art springs from and it is one of man's earliest and most primal urges and is essential to the origin of the idea of home. If I were to be looking for an early form of art that belonged solely to these shores that I call home, my first stop would be the Celtic christian images created after the Romans left these shores in 410. Here you have images which feature abstracted and entangled organic and animal forms. It is an imagery that belongs to the land. Here is an image from the Book of Kells. There is not only the Celtic knot but the image of Christ on the throne. It is not the same as a catholic or orthodox icon. It has a freedom to it that belies it's genesis from the dark. In spite of it's abstraction, I think it still has much of the same atmosphere as the work of the 19th century and imaginist Samuel Palmer. I found his work attractive as a student largely because he painted in egg tempera, but also because his images suggested a place I felt at home with, for want of a better word. The warmth of his images reflected that gorgeous space that you find yourself in when you are half awake and half dreaming after a gorgeous night's sleep, or returning home to a warm fireside after a romantic walk. It is an ideal, if not an actual idyl. The word 'Palmer' means pilgrim and I think the theme of this talk is about pilgrimage as much as it is about 'home'. When reading of Palmer, especially his childhood, I sense some common experience. I think his world has was a land of imagined reality more than it is a world of material, people, facts and figures. His parents sensed him fragile and strove to protect him by educating him at home in Latin, Greek and in memorising tranches of scripture and Pilgrims Progress. Quoting Jerrold Northrop Moore, he says of Palmer: "Yet it was his mother's presence which defined the boy's sense of 'home'. 'Home influence is maternal influence,' Palmer was to write in maturity. And to maternal influence he coupled a religion of the country: When religion is made the basis of education - the sights, sounds and sentiment of the country shed a strong moral influence on the flexible and impressible mids of children - and in town they lose those fine wild exciting exulting animal spirits - which seem essential to the healthy growing of mind and body." In here we have some key concepts which are essential to understanding the english pastoral tradition as it evolved through the 19th century, namely the maternal equivalence of rural landscape and it's nurturing influence. Many of these virtues are expressed in Edward Burne-Jones painted his last major work painted in 1897: Love and the Pilgrim. I think it sets out a boundary between the outward expression of a romantic age and an age of disillusion. You can see in it's style that it owes much to the romantic images of the renaissance and it is as much a pagan mythical spiritual image as it is a reference to Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress. This ambiguous tearing of secular and religious imagery, really does put at very least a semi colon, if not an actual full stop to this style of animated cartoonery. This is entirely apt as a commentary on the zeitgeist of the time in which it was painted. The angel or god of love leads the pilgrim out from a mass of brambles. The pilgrim looks worn and bent low, though still a handsome, idealised and muscular character. Perhaps this is a romantic view of suffering? Perhaps this is a portent of the path that innocence must take a horrible prophecy of events yet to come? Burne-Jones' England has a long history of warring. Warring with itself, our American and Canadian cousins, our European neighbours and most recently with the Boers in the African colony of South Africa. So he was no stranger to the idea of war, but he still lived in an age of perpetual innocence and locality was everything. I think, that what the god of love is doing here, is sheltering and guiding the pilgrim. His other protection is his hooded cape. Nowadays the only caped figures we speak of in our stories and Batman and Superman. We don't have heroes like that any more, with that kind of humility, guiding by love, patience and sincerity. Our mythology has become fast, violent and propelled us into the farthest reaches of the imagined galaxy. Our heroes are bombastic, autocratic and invulnerable. They are possibly a symbolic compensation for the fragmentation and weakening of the protecting, and now androgynous archetype - the one that guides and protects. It is an idealistic image. The other thing to notice here, is that the landscape is experienced as a 'local' and intimate phenomenon. The events at the turn of the late 19th century, culminating in the first world war and its aftermath pushed the concept of home into a global context. Events abroad had far reaching effects and as we shall see. British culture came under the influence of European pioneers such as Cezanne, Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Derain. Imagery became by turns primitive, then masculine and angular and finally abstract. It was as though a great divorce had occurred between the romantic tradition of the 19th century and harsh culture of militarism, and fundamentalist politics that spread like wildfire across Europe. The idea of a protecting mother country archetype was about to be dashed forever. Digressing slightly into music, at about the same time, I don't think it is any random chance that Elgar, deeply moved by the mammary hills of his home in rural Monmouthshire wrote Pomp and Circumstance in 1900. Beautiful and yet perhaps now somewhat ironically anachronistic, here is nation and home writ large. These issues were big news at that time and played a large part in propelling the idea of Polar exploration, for King and country in the face of the Empire's fading grip. At about that time Robert Falcon Scott was recruited to lead an expedition south to the Antarctic. Captain Cook had been unlucky not to discover it and now it was time to get Antarctica to surrender to the British flag. Norway had Roald Ammundsen on the same ticket. Scott tried to get him onside by focussing on science, sharing knowledge and even donating equipment to his expedition. Ernest Shackleton also joined Scotts early expedition to the South but the experience left the two men at odds. Scott sent him home, declaring he was unfit and not an asset to the expedition. Shackleton's response was to get his own expedition organised, apparently in direct competition to Scott. There is much that has been written about why Scott didn't succeed, or at least, why he was second to the pole, and why he didn't make it home. Home being the important idea here. The empire was looking for new ways to assert it's grip on the world stage. The Royal Geographic Society, which refused to admit women, held itself in very high regard and was a still a bastion of empire, misogyny and racism. Polar exploration was seen as a way of perpetuating Britain's hegemonic status. It was perhaps as important then to Britain as the lunar landings were to the USA in the 70's. It was always going to be a race. Very sadly, as we all know, Scott perished along with his companions some time in late March 1912. There is an engraved family memorial, with Scott's name engraved across stone plinth, upon which stands a stone cross in a churchyard not ten miles from where we are now, at Holcombe in Somerset. His family wanted some memorial and this is their tribute and statement of belonging here at home, even though his body remains in Antarctica. "A century of storms and snow have covered the cairn and tent, which are now encased in the Ross Ice Shelf as it inches towards the Ross Sea. In 2001 glaciologist Charles R. Bentley estimated that the tent with the bodies was under about 75 feet (23 m) of ice and about 30 miles (48 km) from the point where they died; he speculated that in about 275 years the bodies would reach the Ross Sea, and perhaps float away inside an iceberg." USA Today 16th Jan 2001. In spite of this ostensible failure, Scott was lauded as a hero. Partly for political reasons, and partly because a lot of good science did actually come out of it. The Scott Polar Research Institute is founded in his name and they themselves now have a program of art residencies at both poles to acknowledge the essential cultural value of art that complements science. Because of research conducted by Scott and others, one hundred years ago, we have attained essential insights into what is happening to our global home. And this is the essential shift that both the move towards exploration, war and the influence of European art precipitated at this time. A shift from local to global. Quoting Turney from his book 1912: the year Antarctica was discovered: Mawson's work from one hundred years ago shows the Southern Ocean is warming at an ever increasing rate; Filchner's observations demonstrate that the glaciers on South Georgia have spectacularly retreated; Scott's collections are providing valuable insights into the changing biology and carbon cycle of the Antarctic. Some of these samples have even forced change in global regulations. Penguin skins collected during the torturous Cape Crozier trip, by Wilson, Bowers and Cherry in 1911 showed beyond doubt that by the 1960's the pesticide DDT had even reached as pristine an environment as the Antarctic, leading to a worldwide ban." What is striking about this, is that whilst the first world war and the motive for exploration were each propelled by similar jingoistic sentiments, the pristine Antarctic still has some redemptive quality in it. We dug up the mud and left fields of corpses in France and Belgium, and we have our dead at the southern continent. You could argue that Scott and his men were a similar type of sacrifice? You can also see how the mess we left in France is echoed in a quieter but no less profound way in the effects that are witnessed in Antarctica. In speaking of home, we can see that these effects are truly global. Shackleton led his men on an abortive trans antarctic expedition. He planned to emerge at McMurdo, exiting the great south polar plain across the Beardmore Glacier, named after Sir William Beardmore, manufacturer of aero engines for British wartime aircraft. Icebound, Shackleton abandoned his ship, Endurance, and escaped part on foot, dragging life boats, then by sea to Elephant Island. He left his crew there and returned with a rescue ship from South America. It is true that not one man was lost on that side of Antarctica, but there was one fatality on the receiving party at McMurdo. It has been said, if you are in a pinch, go with Shackleton; if you want discipline and organisation go with Scott. Frank Hurley, whom, was Shackleton's photographer on this terrible journey. I find it incredible, that having survived this ordeal, he went on to work and fight at the Western Front with his Australian compatriots and we will look at some of his work in a moment. Back to 1910 and the years before the outbreak of war. Paul Nash is engaged in his flirtation with Marinettie's Futurist dogma. He was shunned by Wadsworth and Lewis's Vorticist gang although it is interesting to note that they each came to rely on the motifs of surrealism in an attempt to hang their work on the zeitgeist of the period following the first war. The New English Art Club, Bloomsbury and Camden Town clubs all wanted to include Post Impressionist influences, and thereby importing important reference to Cezanne and then Matisse, Derain, Epstein and Picasso. It was none other that Sir William Rothenstein who referred Nash to the Slade and Henry Tonks so that he could learn to draw. It was felt that Nash's drawing had a kind of coarseness that might be taught out of him. Tonks advised his pupils in no uncertain terms to avoid Roger Fry's exhibitions of European Post impressionist paintings, fearing that they might somehow be contaminated. Tonk's own contribution to the oeuvre of the war is found in his graphic medical illustrations of facial mutilations. They are nothing if not blindingly unpoetic and perhaps a testament to his pragmatism. Nash's own assessment of Tonks is perhaps reflected in the fact that he was kind enough to advise his younger brother to avoid such art training as he himself was subjected to. Nash was torn apart by what he saw whilst working as an ambulance driver at the front. He was repatriated due to nervous exhaustion, or shell shock, to which he never admitted. He was sent back to France as a war artist. Nash's friend and war artist colleague, CWR Nevinson, painted 'La Patrie', in 1916. The image is of soldiers laid out on stretchers, wounded, dead or dying. There is no sentimentality in this. And yet in the same year, Blake's words first printed in 1808, were set to music to become the famous hymn 'Jerusalem'. It seems that patriotism was dying in a sea of pathos in the painted world, but the establishment was not above appropriating the words and music of a recently bygone age to pump up it's cause. Slightly later, Nevinson's 'Paths of Glory' was banned by a zealous censor in March 1918. There is an interesting story here in that NAsh hung the work at the Leicester Gallery hoping that the censors ban would be overturned, but it was not, so he simply placed a diagonal strip of paper over the piece with the word 'censored' written across it. The predictable effect was that the painting became an object of public fascination and the exhibition was extended, although the work itself was replaced by another painting of a camouflaged tank. What is more surprising still is the governments endorsement of the Grafton Galleries show of large scale photographs. These pictures give you something of the scale of the works. It was felt that factual documentary was less inflammatory. One reviewer said: "Frankly they make most historical war paintings look silly. The whole exhibition is indeed extremely interesting, not only for the poignant actuality of it's subject matter, but of it's latent commentary on realistic art." Laurence Binyon, "War Pictures and the War Museum," New Statesman (Lon- don), April 20, 1918. The war was still in full swing. The picture is self explanatory, but the government was not done with sending artists to record the war or it's aftermath. In 1918 came this beautiful painting from Nash's brother. John Nash's 'The Cornfield', comes as a sheer delight after the horror and torture of images created by his elder brother and his cohort Nevinson. Seen in the context of contemporary poetry at that time, in particular, Wilfred Owen's poem, 'futility' you cant help but see bitter irony in the idea of 'harvest' and 'reaping'. The great reaper has done his job. The field is quiet and the sun spectacular. Here shines the sun in Owens's poem. And the landscape heals itself. And that is what the men returning from the war now sought in whatever ways were available to them. Their home owed them, but was not quick to pay. Hardship and unemployment faced many veterans. And the Nash brothers had enough of their own tragedy to heal from. Their mother was poorly enough to be rendered to an asylum. It is said of both that they did not settle after the war. It is well known that Paul had his own depressive spells. It is also recorded each married, neither was happy and sought solace in extra marital affairs. In 1919 Nash produced 'The Menin Road' in response to a government commission. The picture is self explanatory and boldly executed. Perhaps he laid to rest some of his own demons, at least for a while, in making this monumental tribute to the men and the landscape that was so loved and so torn assunder. Another picture resulting from a similar commission, was made by Charles Sims. 'The Old German Front Line, Arras, 1916'. It is a huge painting, if not monumental. To stand in front of it is to be in it. The vast landscape lies a way out in front and scanning across, my eyes arrive at a corner of a field by a small wood. There stand a few silent rows of white crosses. Everyone else has gone home. The landscape is unutterably quiet. Gone home. Where are these men? Laying quietly in a field without living arms and legs to move them. I can hear the crows cawing and the bodies turning in their graves to find some comfort, but there is no comfort in this landscape. The wreckage is there plain to see. And the landscape mourns. Unlike Nevinson's painting, there are no bodies to be seen, but the violence and the tragedy is inferred no less powerfully. David Bomberg was another of Tonk's pupils. Although never a member of the Vorticist movement, he was invited to exhibit alongside. In his work you can see the nascent abstraction that was emerging in English art at that time. If you went after the english outcome from the post impressionist scene it is easy to see where this break away came about. Bomberg's distillation of the European trend was potent enough, in 1913, to get him expelled from the Slade. Later he had his own 'apostles', who, like those of the earlier Bloomsbury sect, thought they were about to write the new prevailing British fashion. Amongst his alumni are Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Philip Holmes. Bomberg never achieved the kind of success he needed in his own home. He eventually left for warmer climes in Spain and there he sickened from malnutrition, returning home to pass away in 1957. As such you might argue he was a casualty of the petty wars between Tonks, and the Camden and Bloomsbury sect. Always an outsider, his quest, I believe, was for 'home'. Whilst Paul and John Nash each found a home in their own resplendent and healing countryside, Bomberg, going the way of abstraction, seemed to get quite lost. Perhaps the Nash brothers had just enough of an anchor in their attachment to the landscape to keep them tethered to the earth, more or less. Bombergs later works are full of dissolution.The hard edges are gone and it looks to me like he is scrabbling to get back to a sense of firm location. He was physically parted from his country and perhaps his heart was broken. Perhaps he realised that the landscape, or the inner reflection of it, never really coalesced for him. Tradition was too restrictive and yet there was no other style besides his own that he could belong to. Perhaps he fell down the cracks? This brings me on to the feeling of dissolution experienced by many at the end of the war. In Europe, satire was given vent in surrealist and Dada works. Georg Grosz and John Hertzfeld who later exported himself to the USA as did Grosz, changing his name to John Heartfield. Whilst Nevinson was censored, Grosz was arrested. Quoting Hans Hess from his monograph on Grosz: 'His originals were confiscated because the army felt insulted. "Either Grosz's drawings don't look like Reichswehr officers and therefore the Reichswehr was not insulted, or the officers look like Grosz's drawings and therefore Grosz is right."But this argument did not prevail, and Wieland Herzfelde, Grosz and others were tried for insulting the army. ... Grosz was represented as a joke, and Grosz himself did not say a word which could compare in sharpness with his graphic line..... The Dadaists over-rated art and literature. They were as much the dupes of borgouis misrepresentation as the very bourgeoisie they were aiming to defeat. ... The bourgouisie did not tremble for its poets, it trembled for its pockets." The Dadaists must have been disappointed by the mockery of their commentary upon their fractured and distressed Fatherland. In mocking the Fatherland, they were in fact trying to protect the innocence of the maternal aspect of their nationalistic ideal - the Motherland. It is interesting to note that Freud's Oedipal theory was emerging at this time - the one where the child has an urge to sleep with his mother and murder his father. Heartfield and Grosz had been effectively ignored by the father. They continued to work together, however, and produced something which addressed the mutilation of maternal innocence. That which they should have been able to trust implicitly was forever ruined by battle scars, bent politicians, brutal generals and war profiteers. This was, at it's heart, a cry and a protest about what had happened to their home. Grosz later wrote: "Today I know that it was our only mistake to concern ourselves seriously with art at all ... We saw then the mad end products of the ruling order of society and burst out laughing. We did not yet see that there was a system underlying the madness." Meanwhile, back in England; Tired from the war, the interest in exploration sparked up again. This time the RGS were to commission a trip to the Himalayas. Mallory had returned to his dreary job as a schoolmaster and welcomed the chance to join a ragbag of similarly tired misfits to do the job. This is how things were at home. The world cup had not been invented and the 1920 Olympics weren't going to be enough to bolster national morale Here is a quote from Wade Davis book, "Into the silence", which is not about war in the trenches, but it is a detailed account of Mallory and his men's experience. What comes through in this passage is the profound sense of mallaise, loss and bewilderment which followed the war: "The long hallucination of the war induced a universal torpor and melancholy, a sense of isolation, a loss of centre, a restless desire to move - what Christopher Isherwood called 'the vast freak museum of our generation.' For some, like Robert Graves, the conflict had marked their entire adult lives, with each moment of it, as he later recalled, having provoked an inward scream, the duty to run mad. 'We left the war', wrote Herbert Read,'as we entered it:dazed, indifferent, incapable of any creative action. We had acquired on one quality: exhaustion. 'The entire futile exercise, wrote Vera Brittain, had amounted to 'nothing but a passionate gesture of negation - the negation of all that centuries taught us through the long eons of pain.' Having lost her fiancé, her brother, and her two best male friends, she had no one left to dance with. The war was over: a new age was beginning; but the dead were the dead and would never return.'" If one were looking for a visual equivalent to Brittain's poignant words, then an answer may be found in Winifred Knight's painting of 1920, "Deluge". Taking on a biblical theme, the idea of the great flood is implied. There is an atmosphere of inescapable panic. It looks to me like as though the women in the picture are about to be overwhelmed, and I think that this is exactly the sentiment expressed by Vera Brittain. Grief which cannot be put off or deflected. Hearts ripped without pity or remorse. This is the legacy of the war. Again quoting Wade Davis citation of Odell's last recorded sighting of Mallory and Irving: "There was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow crest beneath a rock step in the ridge; the black spot moved up the snow to join the other crest. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more." A much gentler rendition of this violation is, I believe, depicted in Picasso's 'Family by the Sea'. Painted in 1922, here is a picture of innocence at a time when Dada, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism were already established and historic movements in European and British art. In America abstraction is about to take hold. The Russians have revolted and the Tzar and his family have been murdered. Picasso is with with his Russian wife. Paolo is born. What we have here is the child trying to wake the father. The recumbent figure is reminiscent of may WW1 paintings, with which Picasso would undoubtedly be familiar. But I think there is even more to it. The archetypal family is represented here: Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Perhaps in a nod to the waking of Lazarus, the magical touch of Christ, depicted here as innocence, is poking the father awake. I think this is as heart breaking as any image of the first war. perhaps there is also an inferred pointer towards the latent chaos of Picasso's future life and perhaps this also refers to how the irreversible trauma of the war has affected the family unit in a wider social context. It is said that before the war, everyone went to church. After the war, church attendance dropped significantly. After the second European war, it declined to a fraction of it's prior stature. Things had changed forever, at home and abroad. Moving forward now into the 21st century, we have seen the British landscape tradition continue. Stanley Spencer, Eric Ravillious, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Peter Lanyon, the Ruralists, even David Hockney have all carried the flame. They were each affected by the trials of their time. Now I would say we have a unique emergence of an altogether different set of circumstances. I have already referred to Scott, Mallory and Shackleton. Thanks in no small way to them, our concept of home is global. There is now a perceived conflict between the needs and necessity of business and politics and that of the environment - our home. The images of Grosz are just as relevant today as they were then. What would he make of Donald Trump? Here is a quote from a beautiful book of photographs by Lynn Davis, who travelled to Disko Bay in Greenland over a series of decades to photograph ice bergs. The quote is from the foreword by Patti Smith as she remembers the deaths of her friend Robert Mapplethorpe, and Davis's son, Ayrev. Speaking of Davis's photograph of Iceberg 5, she writes: "I cannot help but associate the image of this particular iceberg with crowning moments and impermanence of the same. A commemoration of love." And so in a sense, this story comes back full circle to Burne-Jones painting of the pilgrim and love. Overshadowed by death but moved by care and loyalty. The conflagrations that plagued our forefathers may be over in one sense, but I think there are bigger and graver conflicts to come. In looking to the poles, we look to the edge of our existence, to the uninhabited wild places. There is an increasing sense that our world will not hold us as we are, indefinitely. We are now surviving by borrowing money and resources from future generations. Patti Smith again: "A mountain remains a mountain. But these monuments will be no more. They shall transition into the fluid aspect of their own property. The toppling of their mass resounds, creating its own dirge. Each plunges into another form of itself as the world shudders and mourns the changing state of water." And so I have one more image to show you. “Pale Blue Dot” This is our Home shot by NASA’s Voyager 1 from 6 billion kilometres distance, through the rings of Saturn. The blue dot occupies space in just one pixel. The photo was taken on Valentine’s Day, 1990 Thanks mostly to the persistence of astronomer Carl Sagan. This is what he had to say about it: We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known. — Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

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