Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer : At War and Peace, Bristol Festival of Ideas, November 11, 2014

Here's a short review I wrote for the local rag about the above lecture at Bristol University.  

Swan Upping at Cookham : Stanley Spencer 1915 - 1919

The first time 17 year old Stanley Spencer made what would become a daily commute between his home in Cookham and the Slade School of Fine Art, his father, William, accompanied him to see him safely across Euston Road.  

Within a few years, Spencer turned his half-finished painting, Swan Upping at Cookham, to the wall and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving first as an orderly in Beaufort Hospital, Stapleton (‘that vile place’) and later with the 68th Field Ambulance Unit on the front line in Macedonia.   

Under the Hill : Paul Nash, 1912

In the latest lecture in the series entitled The Artist at War, put on by the Bristol Festival of Ideas to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Paul Gough sought to explore the visual language of conflict by contrasting Spencer’s work with that of his friend and peer, the landscape artist Paul Nash, who enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles and served on the Western Front before becoming an official war artist in November 1917.  
                                        
Both artists were profoundly affected by their experience of battle.  ‘I am no longer an artist interested and curious,’ wrote Nash to his wife, ‘I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.’ 


We Are Making A New World : Paul Nash, 1918

Nash went on to produce some of the most iconic and searing images of the battlefields of Belgium and France and, in Gough’s words, ‘introduced a new language of devastation to the genre of landscape.’  
Having returned to Cookham at the end of 1918, Spencer managed to finish Swan Upping but struggled to assimilate his recent past into his work, often stating ‘It is not proper or sensible to expect to paint after such experience.’  It was only when he received the commission from his patrons, the Behrens, for a memorial chapel at Burghlere to Mary Behren’s brother, Lieutenant Henry William Sandham, that he had the opportunity to undertake his astonishing and moving ‘re-membering’ of war, based on his time in Bristol and Macedonia. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

November Update From the Settee of Sickness

It is more than ten months since I last filed a report from the Settee of Sickness, but here I am again, so maybe it's time to do an update on how I fared in my jaunting plans for 2014. 

I listed roughly ten places I wanted to see and set myself a target of visiting four of them by the end of the year.  I doubt I'll get much more jaunting in before Christmas, though, so now's as good a time as any to see how I did. 


1.  12th century Lullington Church on the Somerset/Wiltshire border, famed for its Norman carvings, which I'd failed to get into on an earlier jaunt.

Well, actually,  I ended up visiting the very next day while engaged in a chauffeuring job for Son the Elder, and as luck would have it, I didn't even have to go hunting for the key as one of the stewards was there showing a prospective bride and groom around.  



And even if I had, it would have been well worth the effort.  Such a beautiful, light-filled place, even on a dank January afternoon.  


2. Zennor in Cornwall - I wanted to see the carved mermaid on the pew in St Senara's Church and have a wander around the coast.

To be honest, I'd forgotten this was on my list till after I'd been there. My companion had wanted to visit Land's End, so we'd had a wander there instead, and the Mynack Theatre.  I squeezed in a quick dash to St Senara's  on the way back to Devon.   I must have heard a snatch of that siren song.  


Having fallen unexpectedly in love with Penwith, I'd like to go back but I still think I can cross this one off the list.  

I also visited St Michael's Mount and Mousehole from down there, which could equally have been on my list.  Taking the new service station on the A30 with its Cornish signs on the toilets into account as well, I think Cornwall did me proud this year.  


3. Part a of 3 was going to see Another Place, Antony Gormley's installation at Crosby Beach, and yes, I managed to get there too.  Had no idea that I would be in that part of the world when I put it on a list, but a visit to Manchester and Liverpool in May meant that it was too close not to see.

Part b - the Angel of the North - is far further flung and remains to be seen.  


4. This item involved Dorset and quite a few places that would take more than one day to see.  We ended up making a couple of trips there, and from my list I crossed off Thomas Hardy's cottage at Higher Bockhampton, Stinsford Church and churchyard where he, both wives, and Cecil Day Lewis are buried


and beachcombing at Burton Bradstock where I found a fossil.  

I did try to get to Fleet, where the novel 'Moonfleet' by J Meade Falkner is set but couldn't seem to find it apart from maybe the church, which we hurtled past, by then in search of an emergency pub. I was envisaging a fishing village scattered along Chesil beach but there just seemed to be a rather upmarket holiday gulag there. Will have to do some proper googling and return.   Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door await another day.  

5. A trip to St Cadoc's in Llancarfan with its wonderful wall paintings fell at the final hurdle when one of our party had to drop out last minute.  Can't remember what I did instead.  

6. Oh and I didn't get to Laugharne in the year of Dylan Thomas's centenary or St David's either.  

7. I have still never been to Lundy.  In fact, I didn't visit any islands this year at all unless you count St Michael's Mount.  And the one I live on.  


8. Mother Shipton's Cave closed for the winter the day before I hoped to go there. But we went to Bolton Abbey and saw the Strid instead and I know there's a poem down there somewhere.  In fact, Yorkshire has been good to me this year, with visits to Filey and Holmfirth too.  Though that's enough with the yellow bikes now.  


9. The White Horses of Wiltshire have generally cantered off in the opposite direction this year.  I did get to photograph the one at Alton Barnes, but as I said before, I think I need to treat them as a pilgrimage and go on foot, so I don't think this really counts.  

10. Radstock Museum. It was mentioned and a trip plotted but in the end I didn't get there.  


I think that's definitely more than four crossed off a list of rather more than ten so mission accomplished ... for now.

I have a big life thingy coming up in 2015 and am not sure how much spare time I will have for gallivanting.  That said, drawing up a list of potential destinations and setting a target does seem to sharpen the will to get out - and however busy I am, I find jaunting a sustaining thing.  So I shall have a think while I'm holed up over winter about a new list for a new year.  







Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Autumn Wildwood

On the drive from Leeds to Bristol, I broke my journey at Sheffield to visit my fairly recently removed friend, Julie and her miniature Schnauzer, Freddie.  

It was another bright afternoon so we went for a walk in Ecclesall Woods, a remnant of ancient wildwood near her home. 

                                       Found art

  

 An elegantly twisted beech trunk
Sweet chestnut tree

Splatches of remembered colour for the long queues on the A42.  


Monday, 3 November 2014

Winter Is Coming

You know it's on its way but this was the first time I felt spring this year, back at the beginning of March in Corn Street, Bristol.


Eight months later in Leeds shadows lengthen at four in the afternoon and the devil starts to dance the way into darkness.


Light book-ended by the music of a fiddle.  Now it's the turn of the long dark but in four months' time the days will come dancing back.  








Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Valley of Desolation And The Infamous Strid

Yesterday was earmarked for visiting Mother Shipton's Cave in Knaresborough, since I was up visiting Daughter the Elder in Leeds.  Unfortunately no one told the people who run it and it closed for winter yesterday.  Really, People-Who-Run-Mother-Shipton's-Cave?  Seems to be missing a trick to me, what with Samhain being celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November.

Anyhow, that meant going elsewhere and I knew just the place - Bolton Abbey near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales.  Because when it comes to the Day of the Dead, you can't really beat The Strid. And yes, I do think the The should have a capital T. 

You wouldn't think this pastoral landscape - a slice of managed pseudo-countryside - could harbour such a terror as The Strid.  It's more Gainsborough than Gorey.  

Although of course the dissolution of the monasteries was hardly the oh-OK-we'll-call-it-a-day-then process that its name suggests.  

 Not that we lingered long in the ruins, or the Priory Church of  St Mary and St Cuthbert - a rather sanitised place of worship with some unattractive windows by Pugin.  No, we had more pagan places to walk.  

First we set off across the River Wharfe in the direction of the Valley of Desolation, the name of which originates from a massive storm in 1826 which did much wreaking of havoc.
Before we reached it, however, we turned off along the river, heading upstream and climbing through gloriously autumnal woodland.


We soon had our first glimpse of what we'd come to see - The Infamous Strid.  




Not sure what The Strid is?  Well, it's a section of the normally placid River Wharfe that is anything but.  

Here's the Wharfe just a little upstream and from the opposite bank.  In the space of a few hundred yards, it is squeezed into a narrow rocky gully, reducing in width from maybe fifty or sixty feet to about six or seven.  You can see the way this affects the nature of the flow in this photo. 


Hold on a mo, let's go down for a closer look. 




Yet the water isn't overflowing or anything, so where has it all gone?
Well ... here I am going to pinch a clever analogy coined by someone else.  It is as if the river has been turned on its side, so whilst it is the width of a brook and looks as if you could paddle across it, it's actually nobody-knows-how-deep because the powerful undercurrents make it impossible to fathom.  These same currents have undercut the banks, carving out caverns in the rock beneath the surface of the water. 



So, if you try to leap it and miss the wet, mossy rocks on the opposite bank - or simply have the misfortune to slip and fall into the tumult as you walk alongside it or over its stones - you will be sucked down into a watery grave.  It is said that no one has ever survived falling into The Strid.

'Wharfe is clear and Aire is lithe
Where Aire kills one, Wharfe kills five.'

I felt a malevolence there, as did Daughter the Elder, and as dusk fell, we were glad to move away somewhere safer.  But before we did, we read Simon Armitage's poem 'The Strid', about the tragic drowning of a newly-wed couple in 1998, to appease the river spirit as it slid into calmer waters.  










Saturday, 1 November 2014

Dr Blackall's Drive and the Double Dart Gorge

My plan was to amble up Sheepstor and enjoy far-reaching autumnal views over south-west Dartmoor and Plymouth Sound, but the fog which descended upon us at Princetown showed no signs of dissipating even as we descended the B3212 towards Burrator Reservoir.  We couldn't even see the tor let alone climb it.  So it was back to Dartmeet for a rethink.  





Then I remembered Dr Blackall's Drive, a former carriageway high above the Double Dart Gorge.  At that moment it was clear up at Sharp Tor and even if the mist encroached, the track was sufficiently well delineated - and far enough from the edge of the gorge - for us to walk back to the car park at Bel Tor Corner in safety.  


It wasn't long before we had our first glimpse of the white waters of the newly united East and West Darts powering through their rocky channel.  

And we could hear it too. As the story of Jan Coo tells us, the Cry of Dart is loud in these parts.  





Additionally, there was the lowing of cattle being herded from one field to another ... 


... and the occasional chomping of a hill pony ... 


... but the evocative cronks of half a dozen ravens patrolling the valley were my favourite sound.  


Here's a closer look. 





Looking back to Bel Tor and Sharp Tor. 


After the greyness of coastal Cornwall the day before and the thick fog just the other side of the moor, the brilliance of the autumnal colours in October sunshine seemed heightened. 


Hawthorn and rowan berries, bracken and gorse.  


Looking ahead to Buckland Beacon with the tower of St Peter's Church, Buckland-in-the-Moor in the middle distance.


On the return leg to the car it became obvious that the mist on Down Ridge was beginning to creep a little closer.  


We arrived back just as the clouds came down.  






By the time we reached Widecombe, it was getting quite thick.


There was nothing for it but to adjourn to the pub, eh, Ted?