Ripening

The Bumblehill Studio

It's a clear, crisp day at Bumblehill, the ground soggy with recent rain and the air tasting of early autumn. The sun warms up my studio, the birds are loud in the woods behind, and the hound and I are savouring these open-door days while we still have them.

"I think of my studio as a vegetable garden where things follow their natural course," said the Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miró. "They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water."

So true.

Tilly in the studio garden

On some days the work hours fly by. On others, I toil and sweat over every word on the page, very mark on the canvas.

"All we have," said Edward Abbey, "is the beauty of art and nature and life, and the love which that beauty inspires." 

That's enough. That's everything.

The studio's plum tree

Blackberries

Plums and blackberriesRelated post: The Folklore of Food


There is no time for despair

Bumblehill Studio 1

When the clamour of the world (and the Internet) grows harsh and cacophonous, I find it healing, grounding, and necessary to turn away from keyboards and screens, to ration the time I spend online, and to be fully present in the tactile world: in the morning light sifting through the studio, in the rising of the wind through the trees behind, in the words slowly forming in ink on fresh white paper spread out on my wooden desktop.

Drawing by Arthur RackhamInstead of flicking through Web pages, imbibing the Internet's manic energy and then coming offline feeling fractured and spent, I pull books from down the shelves and turn their rustling pages at a measured, more human pace...and my soul unclenches. My attention deepens. Something vital in me is quickened back to life. And yes, I am using a keyboard now to share these thoughts with you online, but it's not a full rejection of the Web I am after in my life. It's proportion and balance.

The Internet is a useful communication platform, and an increasingly important one...but books, oh, books are more than paper and ink. They are powerful medicine. Real books, I mean. Physical books, sitting on the dusty shelves of my studio and surrounding me like old friends, dog-earred and battered with love and use, their pages thick with margin notes and underlines. How could I ever doubt that art matters? Words have saved me over and over. Words are saving me right now. Books are what I turn to when the world grows dark, and they never fail to give me strength.

Bumblehill Studio 2

This morning, for instance, Ben Okri asks me:

"What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity, when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings?"

I've been asking myself the same question all week.

"The only hope," he answers, "is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to redream one's place in the world -- a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things."

Bumblehill Studio 3

Then Rebecca Solnit joins the conversation:

"Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward," she notes, "but history is not an army. It's a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later, sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope."

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic," adds Howard Zinn. "It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction."

Bumblehill Studio 3

Bumblehill Studio 4

Barry Lopez pulls me out of a Western-centric point of view, reminding me of the things I share in common with people the world over:

"I believe in all human societies there is a desire to love and be loved," he says, "to experience the full fierceness of human emotion, and to make a measure of the sacred part of one's life. Wherever I've traveled -- Kenya, Chile, Australia, Japan -- I've found the most dependable way to preserve these possibilities is to be reminded of them in stories. Stories do not give instruction, they do not explain how to love a companion or how to find God. They offer, instead, patterns of sound and association, of event and image. Suspended as listeners and readers in these patterns, we might reimagine our lives. It is through story that we embrace the great breadth of memory, that we can distinguish what is true, and that we may glimpse, at least occasionally, how to live without despair in the midst of the horror that dogs and unhinges us."

Bumblehill Studio 5

Bumblehill Studio 6

Terry Tempest Williams concurs, and affirms the role that artists play in the transmission of such stories:

"Bearing witness to both the beauty and pain of our world is a task that I want to be part of. As writers, this is our work. By bearing witness, the story that is told can provide a healing ground. Through the art of language, the art of story, alchemy can occur. And if we choose to turn our backs, we've walked away from what it means to be human."

Bumblehill Studio 7

Then Toni Morrison takes me firmly by the shoulders and sends me back to my desk again:

Troubled times, she says, are "precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

"I know the world is bruised and bleeding," she adds, "and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge -- even wisdom. Like art."

Like art indeed.

Bumblehill Studio 8

Studio Muse with Bone

Decoration by Arthur Rackham

Words: The first five quotes above are from the following books, all recommended: A Way of Being Free by Ben Okri (Phoenix, 1998); Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (Nation Books, 2005); You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn (Beacon Press 2002), About This Life by Barry Lopez (Vintage, 1999), and A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams, edited by Michael Austin (Utah State University Press, 2006). The final quote is from "No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear" by Toni Morrison (The Nation, March 2013); I owe thanks to Maria Popova of Brain Pickings for introducing me to it.  Pictures: The drawing and painting above are by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). The photographs are from my studio cabin, perched on a Devon hillside at the edge of a small wood.


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.


Widdershins collage #4

The Language of Trees by Terri Windling

The Language of Trees

The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, they do tell tales, they sing when the've a mind to, they are gigglers, gossips, grumblers, cataloguing every ache and pain, and yet they hold no grudges, claim no debts, speak ill of no creature. They have their tempers, yes, trantrums of branches lashed in gusts and gales, but then they come to rest in stillness, spent, humming contentedly. You've heard them, child, just yesterday. You thought it was only the wind. The thing you need to know is that by dawn-light every tree stands tall and chants its name, its history, its kinship web and lineage. You've heard them, child, the rustle beneath the dawn chorus of birds. The thing you need to know is that the trees tell stories older than the oldest tales of humankind -- by dusk, by night, by starlight, you have heard their midnight murmuring. You told me so. You thought it was just water running in the stream. The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in their own language. They mutter with the crackle of old brown leaves, they sigh with the snow drifiting at their feet, they utter exquisite arboreal poems as each tender new leaf unfurls, they laugh in shivers of green and gold tickled by the passing breeze. The thing you need to know, child, is that trees do speak, in the tree language. And yes, you will understand their speech one day, root child, sweet sapling.

Work table

Collage detail by Terri Windling

Bits & bobs

Drawing detail

Collage materials

Framed collage in my studio, prior to the exhibition

The language of trees

Listen

Leaves & threads

Can you hear them?

This post was composed on 8/27, & set up for automated posting on 9/1. I'll be back on-line on 9/5.