The art's heart's purpose

Conversation by Sophie Ryder

From an interview with David Foster Wallace (1962-2008):

"I've gotten convinced that there's something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn't have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent....Talent's just an instrument. It's like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn't. I'm not saying I'm able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art's heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It's got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.

Sitting by Sophie Ryder

Kneeling Hare by Sophie Ryder

Hugging by Sophie Ryder

"I know this doesn't sound hip at all...But it seems like one of the things really great fiction writers do -- from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O'Connor, or like the Tolstoy of 'The Death of Ivan Ilych' or the Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow -- is 'give' the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can't be for your benefit; it's got to be for hers. What's poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out."

Which is precisely why this kind of work is necessary. Especially here in the mythic arts field.

Bending, Crouching, Kneeling, Standing Figures by Sophie Ryder

The Minotaur and the Hare by Sophie Ryder

Girl Hugging Dog by Sophie Ryder

The marvelous sculptures and drawings today are by English artist Sophie Ryder. Born in London in 1963, she was raised in England and the south of France, studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, and now lives and works in an enchanted hand-crafted farmhouse in the Cotswolds. Ryder's world "is one of mystical creatures, animals and hybrid beings made from sawdust, wet plaster, old machine parts and toys, weld joins and angle grinders, wire 'pancakes,' torn scraps of paper, charcoal sticks and acid baths."

Her hare figures, she says, "started off as upright versions of the hare in full animal form, and now they have developed into half human and half hare. I needed a figure to go with the minotaur -- a human female figure with an animal head. The hare head seemed to work perfectly, the ears simulating a mane of hair. She feels right to me, as if she had always existed in myth and legend, like the minotaur."

Luigi by Sophie Ryder

Wire Dog by Sophie Ryder

Ryder's dogs (whippets crossed with Italian greyhounds) also appear frequently in her work. "I have been breeding these dogs since 1999," she explains, "and since then have achieved the most perfect companions and models -- Elsie, Pedro, Luigi and Storm. Now we are a pack and they are with me twenty-four hours a day. We run, work and sleep together -- although they do have their own beds now! Living cheek-by-jowl with these dogs means that their form is somehow sitting just under my own skin. I can draw or sculpt them entirely from memory. They are my full-time companions so I am never lonely. The relationship between the Lady Hare and the dog is very close, just as is my bond with my own family of dogs."

To see more of Ryder's art, please visit her website; or pick up Jonathan Benington's book Sophie Ryder, published by Lund Humphries (2001). There's an interview with the artist here, and delightful pictures of her farmhouse here.

If you'd like to know more about the folklore of hares and rabbits, go here and here.

Drawings by Sophie Ryder

Sophie Ryder working on Curled Up Number 2

All rights to the art, video, and text above reserved by the artist, filmmaker, and the author's estate. An interesting related article is "David Foster Wallace Was Right: Irony is Ruining Our Culture" by Matt Ashby & Brendon Carroll.


Widdershins collage #6

Fairy Tales by Terri Windling

Fairy Tales

Framed collage in my studio, prior to the exhibition

Drawing detail by Terri Windling

Collage detail

Once upon a time there was a girl, there was a boy, there was a poor woman who wanted, there was a queen who couldn't have, there was witch who lived under, there was a green frog at the bottom of, there was a troll, a tree, a bear, a bright eyed bird who knew the secret of, there was a fairy who had lost, there was a child who had found, there was a wizard who had made, there was a princess who had broken, there was a story that was trying to be told. Listen. The wind is speaking....

Collage & drawing details

Collage materials

Bits & bobs

Roughs and texts on  the work table

Patterend papers & tape measure

Coffee cup, threads, twigs, paints

Collage materials

texts for collage

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino


Widdershins collage #5

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep by Terri Windling

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

On the work table

Collage materials

Patterned papers

Drawing detail

Sketch in progress   Now I lay me down to sleep,
   I pray to Earth, my soul to keep.
   I pray to Wind, for gentle dreams.
   To Water, for sweet murmurings.
   To Grass, where I will make my bed.
   To Moss, where I will rest my head.
   To blood’s Fire, to keep me warm.
   To Dark, to keep me safe from harm.
   To Moon, to dim her silver light
   so Fox will pass me by tonight.
   I pray to Stars, who watch above.
   Bless me, and everyone I love.

Framed collage in my studio, prior to the exhibition

Tilly

Rabbits & Hares

Rabbits, fox, & hound from medieval tapestries

Rabbit & hounds

Me & Tilly

This post was composed on 8/27, & set up for automated posting on 9/2. I'll be back on-line on 9/5.


The end of summer, diving into "deep work," and Widdershins collage #1

Studio garden

Howard and I are developing the practice of taking regular Work Retreats: a few days in every month in which we hole ourselves up in our respective studios, the Internet switched off and the phone disengaged, in order to focus with greater attention than is possible during ordinary interrupted working days. Today is a holiday here in Britain, but starting tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, I'll be incommunicado in my quiet studio. Then I'll be back online again on Monday, September 5th.

Studio garden

Book & Burne-Jones coffee mug

Late summer morning

I'm working on a writing project right now, while Howard has several things on his plate, from Commedia to puppetry. Come step through the gap in the garden hedge that leads from my studio cabin to his....

The path from studio to studio

...where you'll find him at work (in the picture below) building the frame for a Punch & Judy booth.

Howard Gayton

Each day, a wide range of sounds floats over the hedge from his busy workspace to mine: sawing, singing, accordion or mandolin practice, the laughter of theatre collaborators. the distinctive raspy voice of Mr. Punch...

Punch & Judy puppets

The hound

Commedia puppets

...a steady murmur of creativity that is close enough to feel companionable, yet distant enough to preserve the peacefulness I crave as I write or paint.

Garden path

Meanwhile, the Widdershins exhibition at Green Hill has ended -- and I do remember that I promised to share my art for it here once the show had closed its doors. Below is the first of my six Widdershins collages. I've set up the other five for automatic posting each morning of the week ahead while I'm on Retreat, one per day.

This one is called Once Upon a Time....

Once Upon a Time by Terri Windling

Here it is framed in my studio before the exhibition, and on the wall at Green Hill with the other five pieces in the series:

Collages by Terri Windling

Alan Lee, and collages by Terri Windling

I hope the end of your summer is gentle, peaceful, and full of creativity. See you in a week.

Ripe plums

Studio garden

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."  - Mary Oliver

Tilly, August 2016


Last chance...

Once Upon a Time by Terri Windling

...to purchase original art by me and other Chagford artists from Fernie Brae Gallery's autumn show. There are orginal drawings and paintings by Brian Froud, David Wyatt, Rima Staines, and Danielle Barlow, plus limited edition Giclee prints by Virginia Lee and Marja Lee Kruÿt. But the show is ending, so if you're interested, please contact the gallery right away.

The Fernie Brae is located in Portland, Oregon...but if you live elsewhere, they will ship the art to you. (And they also offer payment plans.) You can see the remaining work for sale here on Fernie Brae's Facebook page. The gallery's lovely website is here.

There are four pieces by me available, each of them pictured in this post: three hand-stitched collages (with pencil drawings, papers, fabrics, lace, buttons, and bits of Devon flora brought home from my walks with Tilly), and one of my "Earth Mother" paintings (oil paints and pencils on illustration board). If your budget doesn't run to original work, Fernie Brae also has signed prints of mine for sale; please contact them if you'd like more information. Also, Greta Ward is still kindly running her online sale of my prints (mailed out from her studio in Arizona), which will continue until the stock runs out.

May I ask you to please pass this information on to anyone who might be able to give these Little People of mine a good home? They want to go out into the world!

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep by Terri Windling

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

The piece includes a poem of mine, handwritten and stitched into the collage:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray to Earth, my soul to keep.
I pray to Wind, for gentle dreams.
To Water, for sweet murmurings.
Cuddle bunniesTo Grass, where I will make my bed.
To Moss, where I will rest my head.
To blood’s Fire, to keep me warm.
To Dark, to keep me safe from harm.
To Moon, to dim her silver light
so Fox will pass me by tonight.
I pray to Stars, who watch above.
Bless me, and everyone I love.

Fairy Tales collage by Terri Windling

Fairy Tales

The handwritten text says:

"Once upon a time there was a girl, there was a boy, there was a poor woman who wanted, there was a queen who couldn't have, there was witch who lived under, there was a green frog at the bottom of, there was a troll, a tree, a bear, a bright eyed bird who knew the secret of, there was a fairy who had lost, there was a child who had found, there was a wizard who had made, there was a princess who had broken, there was a story that was trying to be told. Listen. The wind is speaking...."

The Guardian of the Fields by Terri Windling

Earth Mother: Guardian of the Fields

I'm not going to tell you what the handwritten text says here, as it's not meant to be entirely decipherable. It's the story surrounding the Guardian and the little ones she protects...but I leave it to you to help tell her tale....


"Into the Woods" series, 54: Following the Hare

Woodland gate in autumn

Today I have another folklore post for you in the run-up to Halloween. This time it's on the subject of "Witch Hares," a creature more common that you might think....

Moongazing by Jackie MorrisAs Carolyne Larrington observes in her new book, The Land of the Green Men: A Journey Through the Supernatural Landscape of the British Isles: "We tend to associate witches with black cats that operate as their familiar spirits, but more traditionally the witch transforms herself into a hare in order to steal milk from the neighbours' cows. The witch-hare has other moneymaking sidelines, however: in one rather jolly tale from Tavistock in Devon, she gives the hare hunters a run for their money. In a letter written in 1833, a certain Mrs. Bray relates how a young boy would would earn money by starting hares for the local hare hunters -- he was always able to find one when they seemed scarce. Somehow, the hare always managed to get away. This made the huntsman suspicious, so on one occasion the hounds were teed up to to get on to their prey's trail more quickly. The hare zigged and zagged to cries from the boy of 'Granny! Quick! Run for your life!' Aha! The hare just made it into the boy's grandmother's cottage through a little hole. When the huntsmen broke in, no animal was to be seen. But the old woman was quite out of breath, and she had scratches as if she had been running through brambles."

Three hares by Jackie Morris

The woodland's edge in autumn

Why, asks Larrington, are there so many stories of witches in the shape of hares all across the British Isles?

"They were familiar animals before the industrialisation of the countryside," she notes, "and their habit of rearing up on their hind legs and their distinctive zigzag run made them easy to pick out. They are swift and clever -- which explains how they always manage to get back to the witches' houses before they Song of the Golden Hare by Jackie Morrisare caught -- and the have long been indigenous to the British landscape. Hares thus appear in a good deal of folklore across the country....I've seen hares myself near where I live in North Oxfordshire, up by the Roman road that runs along the southern side of Madmarston Hill near Swalcliffe: two big beasts on their hind legs, boxing away at one another like a couple of prizefighters, until they spotted me and the dog. Then they swerved away over the stubbly March fields, only to take up their bout again at a more distant corner. These hares were probably a male/female pair, rather than rival males duking it out: the female was trying the repel the male's advances, with limited success."

A detail from the Hare and the Moon by Jackie Morris

The woodland in autumn

Two hares by Jackie Morris

Hares are sometimes seen to gather together in what looks like a convocation, says Larrington, "eight or ten of them sitting in a circle and gazing at one another as if in silent communication. The writer Justine Picardi mentions seeing just such a phenomenon in June 2012 in the Scottish highlands:

" 'On the way here last night, a magical scene: glimpsed in a field beside the lane, a circle of hares, all gazing inward, motionless in the moment that we passed. I've heard occasional stories of these rarely witnessed gatherings -- but never seen one for myself. No camera to hand -- although if we'd stopped, I'm sure the hares would have vanished -- yet a sight impossible to forget.'

"But we know of course that these were no ordinary hares, but surely a gathering of witches in hare form."

We Are All Moongazing by Jackie Morris

If you'd like to know more about about Witch Hares and other hare legends, then in addition to Larrington's book (which devotes part of a chapter to the subject), I recommend The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans & David Thomson, a volume completely devoted to hare history and legendry. Another one to seek out is The Hare Book, edited by Jane Russ for The Hare Preservation Trust (UK), which is a delightful and informative compilation of stories and facts about hares accompanied by photographs and art -- including contributions from Jackie Morris, Virginia Lee, and Hannah Willow. (I particularly recommend Jackie's story in the book, "The Old Hare in Spring: 1502," inspired by the art of Albrecht Dürer, and the charming true-life tale of the three hares beloved by the 18th century poet William Cowper.)

You'll find more magical hares in my previous post "The Folklore of Rabbits and Hares" -- as well as some Witch Hares leaping through a post on Devon folklore: "Tales of a Half-Tamed Land." Devon is a veritable hotbed of shape-shifting hares, so be wary if you're out after dark here....

Hare drawing by Jackie Morris

The gorgeous hare art in this post is by Jackie Morris, one of the finest painters of hares (and other animals) working today. After admiring her art and stories for years, I finally had the opportunity to meet her earlier this month when her travels brought her through Devon -- and to see her gorgeous new book: The Wild Swans (which I highly recommend), and to hear about her current project: a collaboration with Robert Macfarlane. (What a combination of talents that will be!) To view more of Jackie's work, please visit her website and seek out her beautiful books...especially, in light of today's subject, Song of the Golden Hare.

Hare watcher at the woodland's edge

from Song of the Golden Hare by Jackie MorrisThe quote by Carolyne Larrington is from The Land of the Green Men (I.B.Taurus & Co., 2015). The quotes in the picture captions are from The Hare Book edited by Jane Russ (The Hare Preservation Trust/ Graffeg Books, 2014). All rights to the text and art above reserved by their respective creators. A previous post on Jackie Morris' marvelous books: "The wild sky."


Opening to the other

Fable by Christian Schloe

"Folktales and fables and myths often show humans talking and working with other animals, with trees, with rivers and stones, as if recalling or envisioning a time of easy commerce among all beings. Helpful ducks and cats and frogs, wise dragons, stolid oaks, venturesome winds, faithful rocks, all have lessons for us in these old tales. The trickster -- Coyote or Raven or Hare -- changes form as rapidly as clouds, reminding us how fluid nature is, and how arbitrary are the divisions between human and beast, between self and other. It is as if through language, the very power that estranges us from other animals, we are slowly working our way back into communion with the rest of nature.

"Of course no storyteller can literally become hawk or pine...we cross those boundaries only imperfectly, through leaps of imagination. 'Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instance?' Thoreau asks. We come nearer to achieving that miracle in stories than anywhere else. 'It is not natural for our minds to be open to what is other,' Carol Bly points out, 'we have to cultivate it.' Stories cultivate that openness. They release us from the confines of self. They nurture compassion and empathy, which are the springs of kindness and justice."

- Scott Russell Sanders ("The Power of Stories")

Dreaming in the Woods by Christian Schloe

Beginning by Christian Schloe

"It's no coincidence that just at this point in our insight into our mysteriousness as human beings struggling towards compassion, we are also moving into an awakened interest in the language of myth and fairy tale. The language of logical arguments, of proofs, is the language of the limited self we know and can manipulate. But the language of parable and poetry, of storytelling, moves from the imprisoned language of the provable into the freed language of what I must, for a lack of another word, continue to call faith."

- Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007)

Bear Girl by Anne Siems

Wolf Girl by Anna Siems

Rabbit With Lace Collar by Anne Siems

The magical art here today is (from top to bottom):

* "Beginning," "Fable,"  and "Dreaming in the Woods" by Austrian digital artist Christian Schloe, who describes his work by quoting Peter S. Beagle: "Anything can happen in a world that holds such beauty."

* "Bear Girl," "Wolf Girl," and "Rabbit with Lace Collar" by German painter Anne Siems, whose influences include fairy tales, shamanic ceremony, and the mysteries of nature.

* "Marsh Hares," "Dream Fields," and "Rural Sisters" by American painter Andrea Kowch, whose work is inspired by the land and light of rural Michigan.

Follow the links above to learn more about each artist.

Marsh Hares by Andrea Kowch

Dream Fields by Andrea Kowch

Rural Sisters by Andrew KowchWords: Scott Russell Sanders' "The Power of Stories" can be found in his essay collection The Force of Spirit (Beacon Press, 2000). I don't know where the Madeleine L'Engle quote is from, and I can't find an attribution. (If you do know, please tell me so that I can credit it properly.) All rights reserved by Scott Saunders and the L'Engle estate. Pictures: Credited above and in the picture captions; all rights reserved by the artists.  Related posts on animals & myth: "The Speech of Animals," "Wild Neighbors," and "The Blessing of Otters."