Coming back to my blog after yet another long absence, the memory of one of Wendell Berry’s poems – A meeting in a Part – pop’s into my mind. In the poem, the narrator tells of a dream: he runs into an old friend, one who has passed already to the other side of life.
The poem concludes with:
Yet I, the changed one, ask: "How you been?" He grins and looks at me. "I been eating peaches off some mighty fine trees."
The past few weeks I have been in-and-out of a cycle of painting and reading. I am healthy, my family are healthy, my sons proud and showing signs of temperance and self-discipline – the sort that the Bhagavad Gita says leads to the ensuing of “a discipline (yoga) that ‘destroys all sorrow'”.
Life is joyfully sweet with swirls of anxiety and melancholy that blows at times through my days. I keep being amazed by the urge to create, and the fragile line between using my painting to achieve a state of “being nobody, going nowhere”, and working with a strategic, commercial fragrance in my mind – however faint – while I work.
Recently I enjoyed Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria. For most readers the final chapters dealing with the onset of disillusionment with the church – and perhaps even his faith – are probably the most gripping. But what lingered on in my mind was the impact of his childhood wandering in the hills above the Vale of Leven, north of Glasgow.
Holloway’s reflections on these childhood wandering are especially poignant for a landscape painter:
How can you make yourself one with a landscape? You can tramp over it, become so familiar with its contours that you never need a map, but you can never possess it. It is always eluding your desire, just out of reach, beyond your possessing. I did not know the word at the time, or the idea behind it, but on the hills I was experiencing latency, the sense of something hidden behind what is seen.
I find in my own landscape paintings, when the right chord is struck, I am immediately immersed in a melancholy memory of schoolboy afternoons spent alone in the woods near my home. In a way, each of my landscapes contain something of my childhood.
In the excellent writer’s book Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott advises aspiring writers:
Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.
I guess in my case the same applies to painting and the source of the visual imagery that lies behind many of my invented landscapes.
The monk Nõin lived in the eleventh century. It is important that he lived. He wrote poems. He wrote:
As I approach The mountain village Through the spring twilight I hear the sunset bell Ring through drifting petals. (translation by Kenneth Rexroth, in One Hundred Poems from the Japanese
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