If there was ever a poet that held a monopoly on Spring poems it is must be e.e.cummings. When I started to think about descriptions of this joyous season half a dozen poems suddenly sprung unbidden into my mind. My favourite can be read here. Spring is like a perhaps hand (which comes out of Nowhere) . . .
This lower case American poet became the voice of my teenage love affairs – the girls in question never knew how smitten I was, but I would imagine reading them cummings’ verse, and I became quite good at it in the privacy of my own bedroom. I did win the school reading prize with a spirited rendition of she being brand new . . . The poet cummings epitomised for me my teenage fascination with America, alongside songwriters Paul Simon and Frank Zappa, composers John Cage and Charles Ives, William Carlos Williams (as novelist), the painter Andrew Wyeth and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If I’d discovered Sheila Hicks before I first went to the USA as a sixteen year old she would have joined this list and I know I would have begun my textile odyssey forty years ago, not just 2 years ago in 2008. I’d have sought out her work, as I did the music, literature, art and buildings that defined my ‘got to know about list’ of my later teenage years.
Yes, you guessed it, the temptation to acquire Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor just became too great. I had to have it, and thanks to Alison in Australia, who told me where I could acquire it at a price I could afford, I now have access to it and the wonderful 200 or so photographs of her 12 x 12 inch wooden frame creations, and more besides. The rationale for the book’s title is expressed in a powerful essay by Arthur Coleman Danto who looks at Plato’s adoption of the art and craft of weaving as a metaphor for the state. If you can’t buy the book, most of this essay can be read on online at Google Books.
I was in Leeds today and took myself upstairs in Leeds City Art Gallery to my favourite room, the 20C English Paintings collection. Right in a corner there was Ben Nicholson’s Still Life with Guitar, a painting for so long out on loan I thought Leeds Art Gallery had lost it. If there is one painting of Nicholson I could place on my studio wall it would be this. Why do I love it? Well, I’m a guitarist and this Spring I’ve written a really ambitious large-scale composition for guitar solo – completed last Saturday. I keep looking at it in wonder that I’ve done it after so many difficulties. It hasn’t sunk in yet, even though it’s occupied most of my waking hours for nearly a month. Another reason is that it has scored into the oil paint on board the profile of sculptor Barbara Hepworth whose life and work I celebrated in a major public project Rhythm of the Stones several years ago. The transparency of this profile and the way in which it floats across the painting suggests it may be a reflected image. But most of all this painting is from the period Nicholson spent in Paris visiting his estranged wife and children. He and Barbara had previously become lovers (at Happisburgh in Norfolk) and he couldn’t leave her image alone, and somehow Winifred (Nicholson) didn’t mind. Winifred and Ben were always each others critical friend as their wonderful letters written throughout their long lives testify. It is this correspondence and her Paris years (with Picasso, Mondrian and Braque) that forms the scenario of my forthcoming opera Unknown Colour,
Now the clocks have changed and the equinox is passed I can cycle around my park in the early morning to keep in touch with the progress of Spring. I always visit the rose garden parterre, which since it last appeared in this blog back in the autumn has undergone a transformation. These new images I took in the early evening when the garden walls are bathed in the golden light of sunset.
At Christmas I drew the parterre in the snow and somehow it reached its visual zenith in Winter. It was to be the basis of a sequence of woven pieces using natural fibres (paper and raphia) and recycled wool. That project had to go on the backburner while I waited patiently to acquire a suitable paper yarn for a warp and a series of musical commissions had to be engaged and completed. Now Sense of Place – the big guitar work is finished – I can return to my parterre project – and I got the warping frame out this week ready to get going. Here’s a reminder of experimental swatch I produced last October.
Work has been so intense in my studio this past fortnight that I’ve needed occasionally to go outside and take in the sun, which has been shining pretty much every day this last fortnight. Wakefield has acquired a splendid water feature in what used to be called the Bull Ring. When I first came to Wakefield there was a monstrous statue of Queen Victoria in this spot, and this where I usually sit for a little while to remind myself there is another world going on outside the music I am working on.
I’ve so missed my weekly weaving day. My last was back at the end of February, but come the middle of May it will be reinstated and music can disappear from this blog for a bit. Before that can happen Sense of Place opens down in Devon, Fifteen Images opens the new Media Project Space at Bradford University’s Gallery II and my daughter Frances May gets married to Mark. Most of my younger children have appeared in this blog to date, but not Frances.
She is a music journalist, founder and former editor of the brilliant Plan B magazine (currently being reinvented), and a fine creative musician and improviser. She’s chosen a simple registry office wedding with just two friends as witnesses, absolutely no family. When she was little girl she loved the Frances (es as in princess she used to say) Badger books and would quote from Russell Hoban’s text the immortal line . . . and absolutely NO boys! Her mother and I are planning to meet for lunch in Cambridge to toast their union and reminisce on our lovely girl. We’ll eat at the Graduate Centre and then walk along the ‘backs’ to Kettles Yard and look at the Winifred Nicholsons and Christopher Woods. We’ll think ourselves the luckiest couple of friends to have such special children (Frances has two sisters a year either side of her).
Next week my score for Jilly Edwards show gets recorded and edited into an imaginative soundscape suitable for the exhibition. It will then play variously in six rooms of High Cross House from six digital picture frames showing seasonal images of High Cross inside and out by the photographer Mei Lim, who also designed the beautiful exhibition catalogue I received last week. This has a fine essay by curator and textile activist Helen Curnac of Taking Time fame (see my blog on this). It also has an introduction to Jilly’s career and achievement by June Hill, former director of the Bankfield Museum and now a much in demand curator and writer on textiles. Here’s a short extract from her introduction, which neatly sums up this really ambitious and unusual show.
Jilly Edwards focused one year of her life on High Cross House, sensing its story. She observed its seasons, inside and out. She sat in its stillness and absorbed its translucent light. She felt its history and grew to know its colours: pure white, pure blue, pure yellow and blended greens. Edwards expresses all of this in Sense of Place. This is not so much an exhibition, as a conversation between an artist and her subject; a record of an journey which we are all invited to share.
Sense of Place : woven record of a journey opens on 4 May and will be at High Cross House until the end of September. I’ll be performing the concert version of my installation music in the house itself on several dates throughout the summer. Details from Dartington Arts.
Fifteen Images gets its second performance and with it Music and Textiles Interact launches itself on the gallery world. All the team (Alice, Matthew and Phil) will be there in Bradford (not me though – I have another engagement) on May 10 and it should be a great show. In September you can catch Fifteen Images at Dartington and then in Plymouth the following February. I did have to remind myself this week that this project comes directly out of my academic work at Plymouth University. Although when you read about all the work contains it may sound a little forbidding, I assure you it is not. It’s a series of spare and gentle musical thoughts and the most beautiful textile images centred on a garden of a 17C Quaker meeting house in Cumbria. Quakers are known the world over for their work for Peace, and so it’s rather fitting that 15 Images should be presented at Bradford University where you can find the world’s only academic department for Peace Studies and its own Peace Garden (particularly worth a visit it when it in its autumn colours).
I’ve been musing a such lot about Spring, the beginning of it all. In the past 12 months I realised that, like Jilly Edwards, I have been so affected by my own journeys and ‘places’ I have experienced. There is most definitely a special poetry these things engender. So I decided I would write my own ‘Sense of Place’, a sequence of two poems for each season exploring the power of place both inside and outside. Here is Spring – ‘outside’.
The next day,
so bright and clear,
the garden bench is warm by ten.
We sit surrounded
by the evidence
of this growing season:
emergent plants, the possibility of fruit,
even declarations of vegetables.
As ideas flow
across cake and coffee
so the shadows move.
shaping depths on greys,
enriching tones within greens.
In the midday sun,
the garden becomes
a wild tracery of lines
distort, corrupt, thicken . . .
and space opens everywhere:
foliage as yet transparent,
no shelter to stalk and stem.
Their very arteries revealed,
plants bask in the fragile heat
of ‘just’ Spring.