Well, it has only taken me about 18 months but at last I have found the time to enjoy reading Edmund de Waal’s book The White Road. I am glad that I have waited until the right moment as I have been able to indulge myself with soaking up de Waal’s palpable enthusiasm for the subject of porcelain without feeling rushed.
I have had the time and the peace to read most of the book whilst invigilating our exhibition at Fountain Gallery which has its final day today. Now this says something about the number of sales and visitors to the gallery and begs questions about self invigilated shows. (Thank goodness for Tregony Gallery which cheerfully goes on selling my work without me putting in an appearance). But that aside, the luxury of reading a well written book about the porcelain story has been a delight.
There are three lasting impressions from reading this book. First is the extraordinary excesses which those with money and power went to in the past. When Augustus the Strong of Saxony died in 1733 he had a collection of 35,798 pieces of porcelain (de Waal, 2015). Secondly of the heightened emotions which the efforts to create ‘white gold’ in Europe seemed to invoke. The alchemists searching for the formula for creating gold from base metals and also how to make white gold spent decades working in intolerable conditions, imprisoned and forced to experiment over and over again until they struck success (de Waal 2015). Thirdly the wonder with which people have always perceived this material. De Waal describes the first makings of English porcelain by William Cockworthy as an obsession;
” To make something so white and true and perfect, that the world around it is thrown into shadows as the blackthorn does when flowering in the hedgerows in early spring.” (de Waal, 2015, p.225).
Oh my goodness, I get that one! When I open the kiln and there it is: a crisp, thin, translucent vessel with a pure, creamy whiteness. It is a kind of alchemy if you ask me!
When I am not in the studio it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am not working on my art.
Given that my art is about landscape I am often to be found wandering the countryside with a small trowel, a pocket full of zip lock sandwich bags and an indelible pen – just in case the urge takes me – but there are masses of other activities involved which are somewhat less glamorous. Social media takes up a lot of my time. Research; planning; applications for competitions, galleries, grants etc all have their place as does the designing, ordering, collecting and delivering of advertising which might or might not hit the right spot and lead to sales.
This week I have been delivering fliers for our up-coming exhibition at Fountain Gallery, near Hampton Court. Each of the 3 artists involved took 800 fliers to push through letter boxes. It doesn’t sound much but, believe me, it can take hours.
You need to find the posh houses, those with two expensive cars outside, because these are where the people with disposable income live. So we are talking approximately 800 security gates to decipher, 800 long drives, 4800 steps to front doors and indiscriminate quantities of gravel. I think that I have walked the length of Chesil Beach this week!
Then there are the letter boxes themselves. High up and you have to jump, low down and the bag full of fliers on your shoulder swings round to give you a hefty clout on the knee as you reach down to push through. Whilst horizontal flaps can be relatively easy, vertical flaps are always a nuisance. They need two hands: one to hold the flap up and one to push the flier through. If the flap is too small you have to fold your expensive flier in half, spoiling the impact somewhat, and if too many of the springs are too strong you risk repetitive strain injury in both thumbs from forcible pushing.
I have eventually learned to be suitably cautious of ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs. At one residence I saw the sign, heard the dog and assumed small because of the pitch of the bark. What I didn’t spot until he had the flier in his mouth was that miniature yappy dog’s best friend, gigantic Irish Wolf Hound, had been watching me for some time through the upper part of the door.
I learned to dread the letter boxes with a flap on the inside as well as the outside most of all. Not only do you not know what is in store until you are committed to the action, but the inner flap is inclined to want to hold you prisoner causing nasty biting injuries as you withdraw your last finger and the flap snaps shut. And you can’t even shove the entire bundle into a post box and dash home because, unlike other types of junk mail, you paid for these out of the yet-to-be-seen profits of the exhibition so they have to hit their mark come rain or shine and I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t see much of the shine!
The doors themselves make interesting studying. I am really into front doors at the moment as we are trying to decide on the design and colour for our house in Cornwall. It seems that grey is the colour. I did see other hues but grey is predominant and, whilst I couldn’t possibly comment on what goes on behind them, there really are 50 shades for the exterior décor of posh houses in 2017! I must have seen pale dove grey, dark satanic grey, blue grey, green grey, purple grey . . . . . . I think we might be going for bright red in St Mawes.
After wearing my legs down by several inches I decided to try doing it by bike. It is a while since I rode my bike but after a few preliminary wobbles I was off up the road. It didn’t take long before I was gazing at the tarmac at close quarters though. I had forgotten the need to disengage feet from pedals when approaching a roundabout and was now face down in the middle of the road feeling embarrassingly representative of Nurse Chummy from Call the Midwife.
I have decided that, out of a new found sense of respect for the postie, I shall be having an external letter box in Cornwall. It will be positioned at a height which does not involve bending double and it will be located at the end of the drive so that the postie can lean over and shove the mail through without ever having to disengage his feet from his bike pedals as he passes by. Enjoy the link!