This week a dear friend introduced me to Simon Jenkin’s book England’s Thousand Best Churches. She did this shortly after I had introduced her to one of the gems of the Roseland Peninsular, the thirteenth century church at St Just in Roseland. I am particularly fond of this church and so it is one of the places which, when showing visitors for the first time, I take great care to approach from the right direction. We walked out along the Bar, a spit of shingle which reaches across the creek, so that she could see the church across the water. She was appropriately impressed. A series of ‘wow’s and other appreciative sounds confirmed this. Later we walked round and into the church. It is a beautiful and interesting place full of peace and history. Its creek-side setting and semi-tropical gardens are the icing on the cake.
I was astonished that Jenkins only gives St Just one star and have resolved to explore some of the Cornish churches to which he awards 4 stars in order to compare and contrast. Turning to the page for the Roseland churches I was shocked. None of them merit more than one star and Jenkin’s summary of the Roseland is ‘A secret annex which might just as well be called Going Nowhere!’ I would like to add to that, please, Mr Jenkins.
The Roseland is steeped in history and tales of daring do; its coast is rugged and yet gentle at the same time; its geology is fascinating; its villages have their hearts in tact because they still have sufficiently large residential populations, having been blighted slightly less than some parts of Cornwall by people who own houses but only use them for a few weeks a year. I could go on and on but, given that one of its charms is that people leave it alone to some extent, I won’t tempt them!
This is my playground!
Having given Jenkin’s remarks some time to filter through my tatty brain I appreciate their accuracy. Geography makes his comments completely accurate. Apart from a couple of ferries there is literally one road in and one road out.
You don’t come to the Roseland unless you meant to!
You don’t come to the Roseland unless you meant to – and I meant to! It gives me a sense of well being. It is my playground. It inspires my work and I am truly glad that I now have the opportunity to live and work here.
I have been suffering a considerable level of Pot Anxiety in recent weeks. This is the state of stress which keeps ceramicists from their beds in the middle of the night because an idea hits or a problem resolution crystallises. At which point there is nothing to be done except to get up – sleep will elude you until the offending thought has been dealt with. The current bout of trouble stems from having rather a lot on and some difficulty knowing how to get 4 firings through the kiln before I head up to London in preparation for the exhibition at The Fountain Gallery which starts on 16th of this month.
At 4:00 in the morning there are few cars on the roads in Cornwall and, as I drove the couple of miles to my current studio to swap pots and glaze things in the dark, I really felt that the world belonged to me alone.
On the return journey I tuned into BBC Radio 4 and discovered that I had woken early on the perfect day. It was International Dawn Chorus day! The song birds that the BBC was recording were fantastic but imagine my confusion when I stopped the car, turned off the engine, got out and still the music played! The birds of Cornwall were all up and about and heralding the morning with gusto.
I could have gone back to bed but that would have been a crime against nature. Instead I brewed a mug of tea, pushed my feet into my walking boots and set off through the woods to the little stone quay at the bottom of the hill. Through the woods the pale green canopy was still not fully out and the path was fringed with blue bells, red campion, wild garlic and with a late narcissus and an early foxglove or two completing the spectrum. The birds were giving it everything they had got – it was truly magnificent.
By the time I reached the water’s edge the tide was just beginning to ebb – sucking at the stones on the slip way as it crept back out to sea. The surface of the river was as flat as a mill pond. You couldn’t really make out the colours because the light was so gentle but I could see a couple of small boats hunched over their moorings and, in the houses opposite, there was not a single sign of life.
The chorus was diminishing now as the song birds all went off in search of their breakfast but the rooks and the oyster catchers were in full swing, it was a beautiful morning and a joy to be alive. I tried to record the sounds but technology defeated me and anyway, I was being far to self indulgent to try for long so here is the BBC podcast from early on International Dawn Chorus Day. If you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole thing I commend the last twenty minutes to you. You will not regret it!
To the beautiful sea and the sky, I find the rocks exciting and have simply no idea why! (with sincere apologies to John Masefield).
Actually I do. Take the Lizard Peninsular for example. I was there this week collecting a lovely piece of ceramics from Richard Phethean which I had bought at a master class given by him last Sunday. (More of that in another post). The sun was shining – which it had steadfastly failed to do for the preceding few days – and I was motivated to check in on the igeology app on my phone to find somewhere interesting to explore. Sure enough it was not long before I was indulging in a geology fest on a beautiful beach backed by glorious cliffs and with a myriad of rock pools and some pretty nasty looking rocks out in the surf waiting to snare any passing sailors.
Nasty rocks waiting to snare any unwary yachtsmen!
The app described an area of ‘Unnamed Igneous Intrusion, Devonian – Felsic-rock. Igneous Bedrock formed approximately 359 to 416 million years ago in the Devonian Period. Local environment previously dominated by intrusions of silica-rich magma’. Cool! Loads of interesting things might happen to a small sample of this mixed into porcelain in the kiln. But to be frank, I think the app was only telling a small part of the story. Everywhere I turned the colours altered. There were red rocks, green rocks, blue rocks: a regular case of rock porn! I scampered around on the beach like a kid in a sweet shop exclaiming at the colours in the pebbles on the beach and admiring the shells – even they seemed to have absorbed some of the magic of the place and shone with an iridescent golden glow.
Of course, being the disorganised clot that I am, this was the moment for my camera battery to give up and I came home with almost no images of the strata. Hopeless! But the reassuring thing is that I now know of yet another great place to go to the next time that I need to marvel at the incredible beauty of our landscape.
I must go down to the sea again!
I am also driven to seek out my geology books and discover precisely what I was looking at.
My Beverley Brook vessels have been going down a treat and, in my enthusiasm to make each one unique I went for a walk along the brook at the weekend to try and get some more images to use in the inside of the vessels. The light was awful – grey with a hint of fog – and so I was not exactly hopeful of getting a shot worthy of the Royal Photographic Society but in actual fact it doesn’t seem to matter for what I want. So this week I thought I would do a bit of a ‘how to’ blog because a lot of people have been asking me about the interior decoration.
Step 1: Take some photos. The deer are still feeling a bit frisky and so it was not difficult to find a couple of stags playing ‘I’m the biggest deer in the Park!’
I didn’t have to get close which is good because I am really anti people stalking the deer and surrounding them with cameras! These two were not really fighting. In fact they looked distinctly bored and the younger one was simply going around the herd picking on all the other stags in order to annoy them as far as I could see.
Step 2: Download your image and enhance the lighting and contrast in Photoshop.
By now the image is looking a little extreme but that is what I need if the decal is to work well.
Step 3: Remove anything that looks the least bit confusing:
all the bracken has to go for starters.
Finally order the decals, stick them inside the vessel and fire. I have not got that far with this image yet – it will probably make an appearance on a piece to feature in the Top Drawer exhibition that I am taking part in after Christmas but I am hopeful that it will look something like this:
Things have been a bit strange since the Open Studios in November. There have been some massive highs, some horrible lows and everything in between. To cut a long story short I have decided that I am going to bring forward the moving of my studio to Cornwall. The building plans are no further forward but I don’t want to work in London for various reasons and so I am going to rent a studio on the Roseland until my own studio is ready sometime next summer.
I have agonised over this. Things have been taking off in London and I didn’t want to lose out just as it was going so well. However, I have given myself a stiff talking to; pointed out to myself that, if I am any good, I don’t need the big smoke; gone for one of my favourite walks on a fabulous December afternoon and reminded myself that I have a lot to be thankful for.
With somewhere such as this to inspire me why would I not want to hasten my westerly migration!
To paraphrase the words of Paulo Nutini I have the view from my window and a nice warm bed; I have a great place to work and a bucket full of mud; I have some great ideas and a nice warm kiln; but most of all, I’ve got my Roseland!
Earlier this week I visited Edge, a ceramics and photography exhibition in Truro Museum by Paula Downing and her husband Antony Hosking. There was lots to like. The colours that Downing uses are very close to my heart. There is something extremely Cornish and rugged about her work. Where I prefer the sense of fragility and delicateness of porcelain, she works in quite thick slabs of stoneware and earthenware clays and yet I feel an affinity to her work; I love her edges and I am intrigued by her range of slips and mark making. The exhibition blurb emphasises how much her pieces are influenced by her ability to look properly and this certainly comes across. Each work begins with copious drawings and with in depth studies of her husband’s photographic images, which have a soft, ethereal feel to them, very different to Downing’s interpretations but related to them by their sense of place. All in all, there is plenty to consider in the exhibition and, if you find yourself within hailing distance of Truro, you should definitely pop along and take a look.
But one thing pained me greatly: As is often the case, there is a comments book for people to voice their opinions and to leave little messages for the artists. Now I wonder about these books. Who are they meant for? Is it intended as a bit of an ego trip for the artist? Is it so that the visiting public can be seen to have taken note? Why DO people write in these books?
Bedruthan by Antony Hosking
I love Downing’s edges and also her colours.
There were many charming comments about the work on view; quite a few of them by children. Well, it is half term and it has rained a lot in Cornwall so children have been frequenting the museum. But what shook me was one rather acrimonious comment about Hosking’s images. The remark implied that the images were poorly composed and out of focus. Well quite apart from the fact that I don’t agree about the compositions and the lack of focus is, I am certain, intended, I feel that this kind of comment is out of order! To make matters worse the author had not left their name; a flippant remark filled the signature box instead. I suppose that it is just possible that this was written as a joke by somebody who knows the artist well and with their knowledge. If so, it is in pretty poor taste to set it down in a public place. I do not believe that these books are the appropriate forum for such jokes, if joke it is. Surely, what ever else these books are for, they are not for that kind of negativity.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines criticism as the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work, the word ‘critic’ coming from Greek κριτικός, meaning ‘able to discern’. This being the case, a critic needs to be able to make some kind of scholarly judgement about the work, not simply pour vitriol all over it, and do they not also need to own their remarks?
I hope I can take what is offered but I also hope that it is offered constructively!
I hope that if ,or when, I am in the position to to have such a book available for comments at my exhibitions, the people who chose to leave remarks do so in the spirit of being helpful and that I will be able to receive them with a view to refining my work, not as something which only serves to get in the way of how I feel one way or the other!