8.10.17

 

IMG_3353 2

After a day of walking no further than the outside latrine (these days known as a composting loo) yesterday I decided to walk to the pier which has a cafe, shop and Wi-Fi hot spot. There was no point waiting for the weather to improve and so, although I didn’t put on my waterproof trousers, I carefully packed them, along with the Wi-Fi technology, into a small backpack. Usually it’s full of painting materials, with brushes tied to sticks emerging from the top, so on this occasion I felt rather different, like the well-equipped guests we host at home with all the latest textiles and boots made from modern materials which I presume derive from the petrochemical industries. No wool, little if any cotton, just varying degrees of breathable waterproof plastics.

I set off at a brisk pace, having gathered that it took an hour, but if I stuck my thumb out I might get a lift. I was lucky and did, just before the steep assent to get to the middle of the island. It’s funny how you can build things up and an hour each way had felt too much out of my day, despite the fact that actually I have nothing to do! It was also because when here in the past I had a sore hip which got worse as I walked. With two yoga classes a week it is much improved and not a reason to hold me back. When you drop the fear or resentment and accept a thing, it becomes easier to do. I know that but I don’t often remember! My mood lifted as I set off on a little island outing to be amongst people and contact the outside world.

My main encouragement was to try to speak to my son. As it was Saturday there was a chance of speaking to him without risk of him being at work, even if he hadn’t taken my advice and asked for compassionate leave. Although I was getting over the shock, I am still haunted by such an untimely death of one so young and I grieve for the loss for my son of his closest friend. My son knew the password to his friend’s phone and laptop and his parents said he knew more than anyone about their son’s life. The last call on his phone was to my son, they often shared a flat, went on holiday together, shared the same interests and spoke several times a day. ‘Brothers’ is how they described themselves. Every night I am troubled by the thoughts of loss and was relieved to discover the radio here has rechargeable batteries so I can follow the vagaries of the BBC broadcasting schedules although I am now catching up with their repeats. I am aware that it is distraction. The soothing sound of the voice of another, telling me a story.

As my time here moves into the second week, my thoughts are also preoccupied by other concerns. One aspect of working in tourism is that our lives are determined by seasonality. Coming here at the end of the season and after a big change in our lifestyle as we give up cooking breakfast and changing beds every day, I have been very surprised by how much work it still is to divide the house in half and have strangers just through a door. It surprises me that, having given up the daily personal involvement, it has still turned out to be intrusive. Unfortunately, with this new project, we have attracted a different sort of guest and a number have proved too demanding and critical. On two occasions I have been sent a twenty point list of criticisms and it makes one wonder why these people decide to travel? Over the whole season we have had masses of appreciation, so why do I find the few dissatisfied people so troubling?

By October, we are usually exhausted. In other years, we have closed and gone away together, leaving a house-sitter in charge. Because it is the first year of a new project, we were uncertain about its success so decided instead to have a less ambitious break in November. The reason for this long-winded preamble – too much information as Norrie says – is that the question I find myself troubled by, is where has my creativity gone? Empty, depleted, uninspired are all words that describe how I feel.

IMG_3324

Living here in this perfect wooden hut feels like being cradled in a wooden womb. There is everything you need but no extras. Lucy has thought out every concern and still kept it simple and minimal. This is deliberate as she has discovered what gives her visitors the time and space to engage with their creativity and the Bothy Project works with her to provide subsidised residencies. I know all this and last time was on one of them, so why now am I empty of ideas?

Instead, I have decided to engage with the task of simple living; something I yearn for in my everyday. Reading Outrun has helped, as it is a gripping tale of just the same desire. There is an outdoor shower here which frightened me in the past, preferring instead to boil the kettle and strip off. This time I have used the shower and, with the careful management of the wood-burner and rationing of hot water, I have managed to have a great wash in what must be the most spectacular of locations, outside, looking up at the cliffs, with the caw of the ravens overhead, everything swathed in mist.

IMG_3342

You bring your food with you when you come here and I have enjoyed the simple eating and having small meals when I choose. I am even keeping a food diary to try and lose eight pounds. I brought a bottle of white wine which remains unfinished outside, deciding instead that it doesn’t interest me. I have read a lot and listened to the radio, but there is something missing and it is my desire to make work. Perhaps that is why I am writing so much, it feels easier than drawing, I don’t know why.

On the way home from the pier yesterday, I met a man who told there was a whole whale skeleton on the north shore. I long to walk there to see it, but the weather is misty, I am unfit and don’t know the territory. I decide on a less ambitious plan and forgo my yearning to see a whale skeleton outside a museum. Instead I go to the Singing Sands, a famous beach that squeaks as you walk, but not today! Huge forests of kelp lie, ripped out at the roots, looking like extruded car parts or specialised components for a car wash. I pick one up and feel what looks like the root, ripped away from its anchor and am surprised to find how hard it is. I expected it to be soft like a sponge.

9.10.17

Something changed today apart from the weather and I found some enthusiasm to go out and draw. I remembered some work I did on Harris which I found when packing to come here and thought there might be a thread to pick up.

The geology is the thing that moves me most about being here on Eigg. There are basalt cliffs as on the Sound of Mull, but more dramatic with chimneys and gorges to create a fascinating cliff just above my bed. There is a window next to me and so I am able to lie here watching the cliffs with the moon coming up behind them. Or watch them move in and out of mist reminding me of Faroe.

The beach is made of basalt sand just like at Old Ardtornish, but here it has a white overlay, perhaps of shell. The two layers remain apart, perhaps their weight is different but the result is a surface of intricate patterns like marbled paper, especially where the final length of a burn crosses the sand. I find a discarded plastic bucket amongst the flotsam and jetsam and, knocking out its weight of sand, take it upturned and sit in the middle of the flow, drawing the patterns with pen and ink. It’s very soothing to sit in the middle of such splendour simply making marks as a response. No plans, no destiny just enjoying the engagement of joining the process of intricate pattern making.

 

Home again.

Six entries are quite enough for three weeks! You have witnessed my creative struggle, which precipitated some difficult moments about family and friends. Whilst here, I have heard that my oldest, dearest friend has a life threatening condition and those of you who know me, know too that my nights are frequently punctured by nightmares about those closer to home. The one thing I have learnt over a life of challenges, is that if you hold tight, the storm will subside.

After twenty four hours of wet weather, I wanted to do a last day of painting and so between bouts of cleaning and packing (I managed to lock myself out of the large boot, which was a big reason for taking the pickup in the first place) and so packing became the art of the possible and drawing boards, large flat boxes of paper, food and far too many woolly jerseys became like shuffling a pack of cards. In between shuffling cards, I mean boxes, I managed to pull together all the thinking I had done and go down to the shore and produce some new work.

P1060477

On getting home to Ard Daraich, I put everything away with the intention of gaining some distance from it all. Not before I showed it to Norrie and asking him to record it. In a few weeks I will get it out again and look with fresh eyes. It may become clearer if there is progress and if I am any nearer the Pressburger adage “I know where I’m Going.”

P1060497

Throughout my time away there was one person to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Day in, day out, sometimes more than once a day, Norrie has always been there on the end of the phone, remaining supportive. He is a great believer in the ups and downs of the creative process and the places it takes you.

The connectivity at Machair Cottage is very variable and often my conversations took place whilst sitting in a sandpit, on a little ridge just past an upturned bath and next to a large patch of flowering camomile. In walking across to my rural wifi hotspot I might disturb a hare or two who did one of two things and I was never sure which it would be. I didn’t know that hares liked pretending to be stones. If caught unawares, they hunker down, drawing in their legs and ears until they look round and brown just like a stone and sit and sit, hoping that if they remain still enough, they might become invisible. The other, more predictable reaction was to run away at great speed and then you would notice they had unsettled hares all over the place and there was a mad dash from every direction. If the lapwing were on the ground they would flap away with a variety of calls or a flock of starling would take off in unison. In the mornings, skeins of geese would fly overhead and with the sand dunes rolling down to the shore, I could see and feel that I was on the edge of the world, our world of Western Europe where it meets the great ocean of the North Atlantic.

P1060492

P1170911P1170885

You could see that too by the amount of plastic rubbish washed up on almost every beach. On my last day I took this photo; three shoes that someone had arranged on a rock, next to an otherwise perfect white beach, washed across the Atlantic. I like to think as sandals, they came from the Caribbean, but look at the plastic breaking down and along with all the nets, fishing gear and other rubbish, it was shocking to think of it floating across an ocean and slowly working its way into the food chain.

P1170892

On being Alone.

Today is Sunday and for me, someone who doesn’t go to church or in fact go out much at all, it makes little difference. The only thing I have to consider is that I can’t buy any milk until tomorrow. However I feel as if Sunday represents something significant today. I have been following the progress of the Pope in America and Jeremy Corbin at the Labour party conference with half an ear and am delighted and relieved that a more reasonable and liberal way of looking at the world seems to be on the increase but it is not that which has affected me, at least not directly.
As the struggle continues and I still have to find a way of describing the landscape of Tiree that works for me, I have had a novel thought!
Why not relax and treat the rest of my time here as a holiday!
It speaks reams about my work ethic and level of anxiety and seriousness that this had not occurred to me until today. When I woke, the sun was shining and being the conventional day of rest I made a decision that I was not going to be so serious about the rest of my time here and now plan to relax and enjoy the island and the time away from other commitments. Knowing me, I will revert to wondering how to find the right language to describe this place but I will also walk, read and sit by the fire.

Tuesday 29th September.
The process of having a daily practice is a good discipline even if that is all you do but in fact I have been working on some drawings too. I remembered, rather late in the day, the exercise of drawing with your marker tied to the end of a stick. I have also decided that as the emphasis here is in the horizontal plane, I would divide a sheet of paper equally into strips, either with a view to reassembling them to their original proportion or into a long, long drawing.
So, equipped with two pieces of twig charcoal tied to two pieces of bamboo, one thicker than the other so it enables a firmer mark, I ventured out.

P1170724

By way of an interlude, I want to tell you a little about what it is like being here alone. I am quite self sufficient and so except for my husband, I haven’t really missed being in company. I have had four conversations with four very different women during the time I have been here. But there are things you have to consider when alone. Two moments come to mind which brought into sharp focus my personal safty. The first, on returning from the magnificent beach of Balephuil and walking to Patricks Chapel, I found myself driving behind another pickup (the chosen vehicle it appears on Tiree) and the farmer got out to open a gate in front of both vehicles. Obviously as he drove through, it was my job to shut it behind me and so he drove off. I got out of the car and shut the gate only to fall through, with both feet, a cattle grid, landing just below the knees, legs between different bars and with the gate violently swinging in the not insubstantial breeze, flapping around my head! Luckily nothing was hurt but I realised how easy it would be to sustain an injury and knowing no one would have no one to contact. It has made me slightly more cautious than usual. This was reinforced by an extended visit to another beach where I parked the car and made three expeditions taking different materials each time. On the third excursion I decided to take another route and instead of walking along the shore as I had done before, I saw a sheep track through the sand dunes and took a short cut. All went well and I was even not displeased with some of the results, until I returned. My car was surrounded by a large herd of cattle, a very large bull and an extremely frisky black heifer amongst their number. On seeing me, the heifer made towards me with great curiosity and I realised that I wasn’t really sure what to do. I stood my ground, flapped by drawing board a bit and talked to her, suggesting that I was not really the interesting individual she thought I was. She was not to be discouraged and having taken a few strides I decided I had to stop and rethink the solution. The black heifer was making such a fuss that I noticed cows moving from miles around across the dunes all converging on the apparent interest. There were calves amongst the throng and I knew you must not get between a mother and her calf. What to do? I was terrified! There were more cows on the beach cutting off a detour to the car but I noticed they were drinking seawater and were not very interested in me. I struck out, cutting the herd in half, round the dunes and made it to the other side of my car where there was a frisky bullock calf. I thought I might end up on the roof but with car keys in hand, managed to take a flying leap at the door and throwing it open, jumped in. The drawing had become of very insignificant importance and needless to say was not longer very clean but I was at least inside a metal box. I think the cattle must have thought I was the farmer as the bull emerged from the feed pens dug in between the dunes and I had obviously given the wrong impression that I had come bearing silage and that the cattle too thought I was their keeper being in the statutory pickup truck. The beaches here all look so innocent and perfect but I now realise that every one with no fencing in fact has a free range herd of semi wild cows and it has completely un nerved me. I have stayed very close to the house since then!

P1170692

P1170753

Wednesday.

Equipped with my stick and long strips of paper I have been out every day but now am including a reasonable walk between the work times. The weather has been spectacular; everything blue and this morning with mist rising in every hollow made the island look like a vision. I missed the red super moon despite getting up at 3.29am. I ventured out and was aware that the moon was shining brightly but there was an obscurity preventing the light showing. Perhaps that was the eclipse? By 4.30am it had cleared and the bright moonlight was back. But there has been a red moon every night at moonrise, which closely follows the most spectacular sunsets. Last night was the best of all.

P1170811

Last year, when on Iona, I remember meeting a man who runs a gallery there who said of my work that it was not specifically Ionian. We discussed this and it emerged that what he meant was that there was no specific landmark to define the work as being located there. This is the audience who walk the beaches of Iona, working out the exact rock that was or was not included in one of the Scottish Colourists descriptions of the island. As I am sure you are aware, I am not specifically interested in geographical accuracy although I realise from that conversation that perhaps it would make my work more saleable. As you know, we eventually curated the exhibition under the title The Beaufort Scale making the theme more about the weather than the geography. I am now having the same internal debate about Tiree. To counter the continual horizontal emphasis, I have now started introducing small vertical accents and looking at the articulation of the marks across the page as something of a musical score. There is a drawing board in the van whenever I venture out and so when the moment arrives I am equipped to make a response. How important is it that these reactions are located within an accurate map? I don’t believe they it is…it is the body of work that should describe the experience of a month on Tiree, not which rock is where.
P1170817

P1170834

P1170824

P1170766

The Struggle.

The trouble with electing to come away from home to focus exclusively on making work is that you are putting yourself under pressure to produce. It is wonderfully uplifting when all goes well but there is light and dark in every part of life and when an authentic voice is hard to find, you are left in a wilderness. I know this is true of a second novel and have come across a prize especially designed to assist those engaged in that struggle. The experience of going on a creative retreat is that it puts everything on the plate. At home there is so much distraction, the weeding, the leaf sweeping, the henhouse that needs cleaning and oh so much more, that the pendulum swings the other way. Away from it all, you are faced with every creative uncertainty and insecurity you are able to dream up. But I am experienced enough to know that this too is part of the process. Somehow, however, you invent the notion of an audience for whom you are performing and thus you create your own pressure, especially by electing to record the experience as it unfolds, which I am doing here.

Those of you who know me, know too that one of my closest held principles is a determination to uphold the truth, even at the price of discomfort. Of course it then begs the question, whose truth do you seek? The answer has to be that you can only pursue your own truth and it is only you who really knows if you digress. I can almost count on one hand the number of times I have knowingly told a lie and I have instilled this quality into one of my sons who has tried other more socially acceptable forms of being, only to know of himself that he is transparent in his mistruths! Of course if you get good enough at lying, you also lie to yourself but that is the route to self-delusion and eventual mental illness and not one I wish to examine. The world of managing your own PR, to release only the glossy and upbeat is not truthful. Life is not real if only equipped to acknowledge the light. Where have the shadows gone? Oh, but now that is described as Negative. Not negative, just balanced. I include this personal paragraph here in order to create a context to describe my experience of the creative struggle. As a postscript I would also add that a disadvantage of this trait is that you get the reputation of directness which some people find discomforting. But it is not possible to create authentic self-expression if you do not pursue the truth; that is why so much art invites the observer to move into more uncomfortable territory and probably why so much landscape painting results merely in the picturesque.

This island of Tiree has confused me and perhaps I need to stay longer to find a language that speaks of it. I was brought up in East Anglia and disliked the landscape there throughout my childhood. In those days, the sixties, there were still elm trees of cathedral like proportions and the fashion for sweeping away all rural character that was not in production, had not quite wreaked the havoc it has now. In preparing to come here to the isle of Tiree, I read somewhere that it is described as the East Anglia of the Highlands. I must say that sentiment filled me with anxiety. It is true that it is pretty flat and that the skies seem very large. The impression of the landscape is horizontal. However, the similarity to the landlocked part of south Cambridgeshire that I grew up in, ends there.
Much of the interior of this island has given way to deserted fields of rush. There are the remains of abandoned peat cuttings and except for the outcrops of low knobbly rock breaking through the surface, everything at the western end as I am, except for three low hills and the buildings, are in the horizontal plane. In drawing, that is where I started and began by thinking of the stripped landscape of light and dark, water and land. On the coast this translates into sea and sky. So, I have been playing with where to place the horizon. The horizon is the meeting of one form with another, where one element meets another. That has led to the next concern. How to find a path to a form expression that lies between the representational and the expressive. It is too easy and seems irrelevant to set out to draw this landscape in a figurative manner. Perhaps the horizon is best described merely as a line? The meeting, or is it the dividing, of two elements?

In order to find a route into this language I have been playing!

I have supported strips of paper and trickled paint down their length. Laid flat and by turning them ninety degrees they suggest the horizontal elements of sky, land and water.
I have tricked glue and drawn with sand.
I have taken paper and paint out onto a beach in a storm and thrown everything at it only for it to get sand encrusted and then washed off in a shower. Weather Painting, the suggested title!
I have gone out at dusk and traced the horizon so only the outlines are clear.
I have sat on a beach with watercolour and bottles of water, wetting sheet after sheet of paper to create the richness of tone and hue.
I have eaten porridge every morning, gone for long walks and drunk a lot of coffee
And still I don’t know where I am going…
The antidote to the film we often watch, Carl Pressburgers “I Know Where I am Going” set on an island off the west coast of Mull!

IMG_3719

P1170721P1170719P1170680Spilt pigment

P1170686P1170683

 

The next project.

Hello MA,

Here, after various musings are my thoughts after our last conversation.

Perhaps we need another to see where we go with this?

Ax

After a successful month on the Isle of Iona at the end of 2014 and then having had an interesting exhibition of the work made, I am now preparing to go away again but this time to the Ilse of Tiree.

For the last few years my work has focused on the western seaboard where the land meets the sea and in particular, the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides.

With the title Close to the Edge I have embarked on a series of residencies and intensive painting journeys to explore and examine the area of Britain and Europe in which I live but of which I still know so little.

This is a process of submersion and submission. Submersion in the subject and submission into the landscape and all it can tell me with my limited understanding of reading history, geography and geology of this magnificent and varied part of the world.

Like with an onion, as you peel one layer away, another is revealed and new discoveries are made along with an acute awareness of how much more there is to know.

It is the exploration and subsequent discovery that is the subject of the residencies as much as the expression of subject matter and the investigation into the revelation of new things and places.

So far, in no systematic way, my exploration has taken me to various places on the West Coast from the Summer Isles in the north to Treshnish on the Isle of Mull and Lochmaddy on North Uist. Taking opportunity as it has arisen I have followed my nose and tried to open my mind and my heart to what I have seen and experienced.

Gradually some themes have emerged which inform the next decision.

Last year, 2014, I had an opportunity to go to Iona for a month, live in a caravan in all the weather could throw at me during November and December, to make new work.

I arrived in sunshine and could happily work outside with no real challenge from the elements. With several layers of clothing and my drawing bag I was able to head out and look for subjects.

Quickly I realised that the logistics of working outside with no car to retreat into or take me far, I was bound to a small area within which it was realistic to remain.

The north end of Iona is blessed with several stunning beaches and one in particular was a short walk away.

During the first few days I wandered about allowing the place and its atmosphere to soak in.

Each time I was drawn to the beach.

I live by the sea, with a beach within five hundred yards of our front door.

But it isn’t the same sort of sea.

Our sea, or Loch Linnhe to be precise, is more of a loch or inland waterway.

Surrounded by hills, the largest hills in Britain, our home territory has quiet a different feel.

The beach at Lagandorain is altogether different.

And so I began to make a series of pieces, created in sequences and allowing the rhythm, colour and taste of the surf that arrives on the first landmass for three thousand miles to inform the work. To record the experience I began this blog and so most of you will have read about it here.  It was transformative and on my return I was offered an exhibition and as part of the installation, I started a collaboration with Watercolour Music entitled Ardgour Artists.

It is this association that has led to my next residency and it is with them that I hope to forge a new collaboration.

Dear Anna,

Following our various meetings and discussions, I am writing to extend an official invitation from Watercolour Music, to use our property on the Isle of Tiree as the locus for the latest of your self-directed residencies. Having read of your residency on Iona, and having seen your resulting work, I am confident that Tiree will offer you the inspiration and seclusion you require to build on this island experience.

Watercolour Music regards this as a first step in exploring the potential for a network of mutual support (WT Ardgour Artists), and to that end, we look forward very much to seeing and hearing more about your time in Tiree.

Is mise le meas

Mary Ann

Mary Ann Kennedy

Watercolour Music Limited

IMG_3281IMG_3008

A tea party, the finished work.

For my last day on Iona, John Maclean suggested that he gave a tea party with scones and hot chocolate for those who were interested to come and see what I had done throughout the month. It was a good way for him to promote the residencies and introduce me to some of the islanders.

It also gave me the chance to look at the body of work together and in an informal way to present it to an audience.

Here are some photos of the finished work.

P1160268

P1160101

P1160237

P1160243

P1160245

P1160252

P1160261

P1160259

P1160275

P1160276

P1160274

P1160257

P1160266