About a year ago, I saw a call out from Obsidian for work relating to poetry. I'd been umming and aahing about working in this direction and had done a fair bit of preparation but it was the final wake up I needed to actually start. The first piece wasn't ready in time for the deadline but I have the beginnings of a major body of work now. So far, there are only four paintings but they are substantial, subtle and ambitious. Each addresses an old, short Japanese poem. Each poem was chosen after assessing as many English translations as I can get my hands on and avidly studying any notes the translators gave. The poem was then transplanted into 21st century southern England (I can't really paint from the view of an 8th century Japanese monk with any integrity!) and the painting then forms a meditation on that poem. The process helps me understand the poem better than I could otherwise hope to, and at the end I am left with a painting as full of richness and ambiguities as the original text.
I chose Japanese poems because they tend to be very visual and very intense whereas European, Classical and English poems tends to have more of a narrative element which would lead to more of a temptation to just illustrate them. This project is currently bubbling away on the back burner while I deal with more urgent things but I will be starting up again as soon as I have broken the back of my upcoming exhibition as the penny has recently dropped about the underlying meaning of Basho's famous frog haiku.
A lot of the late summer was spent as Artist in Residence at Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire. Built by the ancestors of George Washington, it is a modest Tudor manor full of Tudor furniture and I was privileged enough to be given fantastic access to it. Seeing as today the Manor places a large emphasis on making the past come alive, I looked for ways I could do that visually. In the end, I used it as a vehicle to explore the absence of electric light - what the mind does to shadows and sound when there is no way to make darkness disappear and trying to imagine what darkness might have been to people who would not have had any conception of electric light. This had the added bonus of picking up on discoveries from my work with nocturnes. There was a real temptation to build nightmares into the shadows, but I resisted and played it straight. Anything you see in them is what is already in your own mind.
Since then I have been working towards a short but major exhibition this summer. As readers from before may remember, I work on the edge of Runnymede, the water meadows where Magna Carta was signed. This June sees the 800th anniversary of the Charter and there are a lot of events locally, nationally and globally. I am taking part in the celebrations being held at Egham by Royal Holloway, University of London. The central idea is to show parts of Runnymede which make it easy to imagine how the place looked in the past. I have previewed two paintings on my website, the rest will be launched just before the exhibition. There will be more about this over the coming months, but for now here are the dates - 12 - 16 June, with the University's Great Charter festival being held on Sunday 14 June.