Ruminations on Ruination

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Oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″ if I remember rightly

Back in the summer months when the heat had these heliconias thriving in the steamy garden, I started painting them in the early morning – or was it in the evening? – and continued in the studio as the canvas was too big and the weather too hot to complete in situ…

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en sweltering plein air…

I finished the piece at the end of the summer, and since January have been painting fairly consistently, and although there’ve been some pieces that I really liked AS I was doing them, I have ruined every single one of them, and have absolutely nothing to show for all the time and materials I’ve wasted. Luckily I was reading a book about Monet during this time and I learnt that he too struggled with the process, and burned, slashed and destroyed many of his paintings, indeed was notorious for it, and he often went through dry, barren and frustrating periods that lasted months. He once threw his paintbox in a river he was painting, and on another occasion threw himself into the same river, and often booked into a hotel rather than go home as his rotten mood would cause too much conflict, and he knew he had to  spare his family and deal with his demons alone. Of course I can’t compare myself to the likes of him when it comes to the level of painting he achieved, but I do relate to the dire despair,  and it’s very heartening to know that this frustration and hating your own dreadful work is part of the deal. In an attempt to end the impasse I’ve gone on to really small pieces, hoping to minimize the problem areas. God willing it works…

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My daughter Amber before I ruined it…

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My daughter Saoirse before I ruined this one too…

 

Another wall…

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watercolor, 14″ x 20″

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

RS Thomas

I’ve just started reading RS Thomas’ biography, “The Man Who Went Into the West”, and although only in the introduction, I can see he’s a man who valued the timeless wonderment of nature above all else.

Having just been in Oxford for a few days, a gem of a town full of churches and museums and architecture that make you marvel, and with a long history of thinkers, writers, artists and scientists that’s thick in the air, in every nook and cranny, I know that this treasuring of this natural world that we’ve been gifted to live in is an intrinsic part of being human. From the insect exhibits in glass cases in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the exhibition of huge photographs of astoundingly beautiful insects beside them, to Kurt Jackson’s ‘Bees’ exhibition of paintings and sculptures celebrating our relationship to one family of insects, to the carvings of leaves and flowers and plants in stone all over the city…Everywhere you look the beauty, intelligence and awesomeness of creation is celebrated and applauded in every human heart that has had the opportunity to spend time contemplating the majesty of the natural world. Give thanks…

 

Heather and Gorse beds

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watercolor, 10″ x 14″

Sitting in a grassy patch surrounded by heather and gorse, with a babbling brook below, and cows and ponies free in the moors behind, the sounds that fill the air are so soothing; water over stones, horses whinnying, cows lowing, not to mention the birdsong, and then of course the bees busy in the heather bells I paint…

Wall with Gorse

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Stone walls were often the result of clearing the land of rocks so that the land would be more fertile. The rockier the land of the area the more walls there are, and the smaller the fields. The building of them was considered an art form – not everyone could build a functional and beautiful wall, and those who could were respected. Walls as demarkation was of course necessary, but they were never built so that they couldn’t be crossed. They’re a great windbreak, or a prop t lean against for a wee snooze in the sun, and this one has become a support for a blazing gorse bush.

Paradise Disturbed

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watercolor, 10″ x 14″

Returning to the idyllic moors the following morning, there was a large white van parked by our painting spot, with a dune buggy thingy beside it, all big tyres and engine, and a young shirtless man smoking reefer. He was very friendly, and as we set up our paints and settled in, he revved his engine and careened up the track once or twice, but the noise wasn’t an issue as he seemed to prefer to lie on the grass and take in this blissful place.

After an hour or so I heard more young male voices, all thickly accented and cussing away good-oh, an endearing Irish-ism. I looked up from deep within the heather beds and saw another three of them, not far from my mother, but she was deep in painting focus, and a bit hard of hearing, which in this case served her well. It transpired that one of them had driven his car into the ditch as he was coming up the track, a track littered with large stones and bordered by ditches – more like massive moats really –  dug by farmers to keep the likes of these joy-riders out. Being high, into the ditch he went, hence the profusion of profanity, and the subsequent smoking of more reefer to come up with a solution.

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Waiting for the mechanic

Before too long they called a mechanic, and then asked us if we were planning to leave, as they had blocked the little track with the car half in the ditch and half out, but we weren’t going anywhere… It was they who had to leave, going up the track in the opposite direction in the big white van when the munchies struck, so took off to go to the shop, asking us if we wanted anything before they left. Remote as this place is, the shop must be very far away…but munchies are munchies, and within the hour they had returned with bags of crisps and sodas, and they lounged around on the grass contentedly.

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I sat on the other side of the heather bank

 

Not long after we heard the sound of a racing car, looked up to see a dust cloud and a little car bouncing over the horizon, and speeding in our direction. It was the mechanic, shifting gears and squealing tyres and narrowly missing the ditch himself. He came, hauled the car out, and left. The boys relaxed in the sunshine again, no longer interested in the dune buggy, or the wrecked car now parked beside the van, and attempted to kick a ball between themselves… but so high were they that none of them could manage, and before too long they left it sitting in the grass by my painting mother’s feet.

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The place we shared

 

Home is where the heart is…

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watercolour, 10″ x 14″

Space, fresh clean air, bird song and bees thrumming, soft purple beds of heather and splashes of yellow gorse buds, huge washed sky overhead and a bright sun, acres of uncultivated land stretching panoramically wherever you look, and not a soul in sight but us… what’s not to love? How would you want to be anywhere else but here? Home again and as happy as a lark to be here : )

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My mother painting near Calary, Co. Wicklow

Sitting up here for hours on end and painting, or just listening to the bees and drinking in the beauty, I remembered how as kids being raised not far from here, a family walk on the weekend was pretty much what we did. As if coming out to walk in Nature with no shops or distractions was a highlight of Being. We didn’t question it, or at least not until we were way into teenage years…. I wonder how the kids of today would respond to no WiFi or ubiquitous commercialism…. I’m so glad it was how I was ‘branded’ as now it’s so very satisfying to be in the great silence of it all…

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The car as portable art studio