Posts Tagged ‘Kathleen Raine’

Alone together

April 1, 2020
Larksong - text by Jeremy Hooker, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Larksong, words by Jeremy Hooker, artist’s book by Liz Mathews

 

 

Greetings for April and all good wishes from Potters’ Yard in these sad and difficult times. I’m working at home as usual with my partner Frances in our shared studio, so apart from how very quiet it is, and an unusual interest in food shopping, our working life is not much different from our normal daily routine. But the exhibition I was preparing for, which was due to open in early May, has now been postponed until next year, and all the other events I have scheduled for this year are cancelled, suspended or postponed in the uncertainty. And of course these things that I’d normally think of as major disasters are the least of our worries.

One of the things I’ve found most comforting and uplifting in these last few weeks has been the extraordinary blossoming of goodwill that has turned our society into a true community, with people doing their utmost to contribute to the good of their fellow humans. And it’s a good thought that though we’re alone in our homes, isolated from physical contact and proximity, we can still be together in social ways, keeping in touch and sharing things that bring us together virtually. I love this inspiring video forwarded by my friend Priscilla in America (and originally sent to her by artist, calligrapher and musician Jan Owen), showing musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Appalachian Spring together – though they are each in their own homes.

Spring  (artist's book by Liz Mathews) words from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde

So I’m aiming to do as much online as possible, to focus on spring and share some rainbows of hope and flashes of light – and bring you here on this online galleryblog Daughters of Earth some private views in the next few weeks, for viewing at home, away from the ebb and flow of the outer world:

DSC_0514

This paperwork is called Prism II, and it’s on handmade paper (70cm x 50cm approx), lettered in acrylic paints applied with a pen improvised from a wooden clothes-peg. I love to use odd lettering tools – bits of driftwood, sticks from trees – and I like to choose something appropriate to the text. Here Winifred Nicholson is talking about a happy home environment – the words are from her article called ‘I like to have a picture in my room’ – and the clothes-peg has very domestic, almost intimate connotations, some of which can perhaps be transferred into the letters as they’re formed. It’s a nice tool to use for this purpose too, as the flat, absorbent top edge of the peg makes a great italic nib, but without the control of a ‘proper’ pen. And without the little dip in the nib that helps regulate the flow of the ‘ink’, you get a much more free, irregular ink-flow – in fact the ink does what it wants to, rather than what you think it should. I like the materials I’m using to contribute their own life to the work we’re making together, and here, this irregularity lets a lot of light into the form of the letters – soft broken edges on the absorbent paper, no hard edges or straight lines. And light through colour is the essence of the rainbow, the prism breaking up the lightwaves into their constituent hues.

ROYGBIV by Liz Mathews

I’m still working on the last few paintings and drawings for my exhibition, now re-scheduled for next April – so the pressure’s off, but the structure of my working week is keeping me sane, so I’m sticking to it. The exhibition – at London’s lovely Burgh House – was to have been called The Prospect of Happiness – and it’s now known as Postponed The Prospect of Happiness – which is almost too poignant. So I’m trying to inject a note of optimism and hope into the artworks I’m making:

The Prospect of Happiness  (text by Frances Bingham, paperwork by Liz Mathews)

This is The Prospect of Happiness, on handmade paper (about 70cm x 50cm) with watercolour paints mixed with Thames water, and lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. The words are from Frances Bingham’s novel The Principle of Camouflage, and the ‘prospect’ is the view from high on Hampstead Heath, down across London, to the downs on the south side – a view very familiar to us both from our local walks – especially on a clear spring day. The ‘tree-crowned hill’ is perhaps Boudicca’s barrow – which features in Frances’ most recent book London Panopticon as the end of a pilgrimage – the view then being at twilight. I like to think that though it’s not so easy to get to the actual place at the moment, this view and all it contains and represents is ever-present in our minds.

Blake's London  - text by William Blake from Jerusalem, paperwork by Liz Mathews

This is Blake’s London, a paperwork I made last week for the exhibition. I’ve been thinking about this piece for a long time, and it has finally come together. It’s on handmade paper (approx 30cm x 42cm) and the words are from Blake’s Jerusalem – not the great anthem we sing (And did those feet…) – that’s from his Milton, but from his later weird and visionary poem Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion which the poet Southey got a quick preview of in 1811, and ungratefully described as:

“a perfectly mad poem called Jerusalem” (from Kathleen Raine’s William Blake for Thames and Hudson).

It seems that Blake worked on writing, designing, engraving and printing this book for over a decade, beginning perhaps in 1804 and continuing to add to the poem until 1820, and he illuminated only one copy, which he did not sell but was still in his possession on his death. Kathleen Raine gives us a way of understanding the work:

Blake’s ‘visions’ do not belong to time, but to the timeless; they are related as parts to a whole, but as parts of the surface of a sphere, all equidistant from the centre, rather than in the time sequence to which in this world we are normally confined. Like dreams they came to him in single symbolic episodes, or images; there is some attempt at chronology, but the material does not lend itself to this order, any more than would a series of vivid dreams, all relating, perhaps, to an unfolding situation, but not forming a consecutive narrative.

(How much this reminds me of the ‘unfolding’ situation now – and how prescient Blake’s vision, how all-encompassing!) And about his over-arching vision for the work itself:

A single inspiration informs words and decoration alike.

It is this unity of inspiration, and integrity of text and image that has always been my highest aim for my own work. I chose these particular words because they celebrate our patch – the area of London that is home for me and my partner – and because they seem to represent the most harmonious aspect of the city – benign and beautiful architecture on a human scale gracing fields as a natural evolution, rather than urban nightmare obliterating wasteland with ‘development’.

As I was making Blake’s London for my exhibition in the context of visions of London, including portraits of historic London houses and writers’ London landscapes, I wanted a very particular image to set the words within – an image that would be an embracing vessel for the text. I chose for this to draw Euston Arch – built in 1837, just ten years after Blake’s death, as the grand entrance way to the new Euston Station, gateway to the north – and embellished in 1870 with the letters E U S T O N cut into the architrave in letters of gold – and demolished in the new London of the 1960’s to the distress of many soulful Londoners including John Betjeman. I drew the arch from a contemporary photograph.

Liz Mathews drawing Euston Arch

I thought that the arch’s golden pillars could here stand for the beautiful trees of Euston Grove, that wonderful green space surviving in front of the dark and dowdy Euston station. These huge trees are now over 200 years old, contemporary with Handel’s great plane trees of Brunswick Square, and have survived not only the bombs of the Blitz but the more insidious erosion of the constant traffic of Euston Road, the most fume-laden air in London – and played their part in protecting us Londoners from those fumes. And yet these trees are now threatened with demolition themselves, much to Londoners’ distress, to make way for HS2 building works. So the final lines stand as a plea, a spell, an invocation of Blake’s spirit to aid the hopeful vision of a future in which this particular green and pleasant bower may be spared the fate of Euston Arch.

I referenced Blake’s own design for the poem in making the work, composing the text layout inset into the image in little clouds, and the lettered font itself from one of the pages of Jerusalem in Blake’s own finished and illuminated copy:

Page 160 from Kathleen Raine's William Blake (Thames & Hudson)

And I followed the design for the starry sky in one of Blake’s watercolour drawings from his Illustrations of the Book of Job, in which The Morning Stars Sang Together, balanced like wing-walkers along God’s outstretched arms:

detail from The Morning Stars Sang Together, watercolour by William Blake c.1821, from Kathleen Raine's Blake biography (Thames and Hudson)

I like to think of those angelic morning stars shining through the branches of the great plane trees at Euston, still singing for us all.

Blake’s biographer the poet Kathleen Raine and the visionary painter Winifred Nicholson were great friends, so it seems appropriate to bring them together in this post, and finish with Kathleen Raine’s own view of the time and the city:

Blake's Graffiti by Liz Mathews (poem by Kathleen Raine)

This is Blake’s Graffiti, a ‘banner-book’ made from driftwood, the ‘pages’ made from shards of a broken wooden wine-box we found washed up on the Thames foreshore near London’s Southbank Centre. The pages were first dried out, then bound together with linen book-binding tape and handmade paper, then painted and lettered with acrylic paints mixed with Thames water. The text is from Kathleen Raine’s poem What Message from Imagined Paradise; she could be writing it about today’s news – but I feel the message is perhaps ultimately comforting. Let’s focus on the delight as much as we can, and both hope and pray that we can ensure things change for the better after all this.

What message from imagined paradise

Can bring hope to us, whose daily news

Is of polluted forests, poisoned seas

Of the polluted air, the clouds

Laden with sour vapours from our furnaces;

What can we hope or pray for that can heal these

Mortal wounds to our brief beloved earth?

 

Implicit in each beginning is its end:

What poet can write

Of beauty truth and goodness in these days

(Or say rather, of what else?)

And yet I feel delight

As I look up into today’s blue skies

Where the sun still gives light

And warmth (wisdom and love, Blake says)

And on this doomed decaying city rise

On the last days as on the first

These marvels inexhaustible and boundless.

 

Kathleen Raine

 

Bees in winter

February 1, 2011

The February plate from my dinner service (with text from John Clare’s Shepherds Calendar) reminds us to hope to see a few drowsy bees on fine February days.

The accuracy of John Clare’s observations of nature reminds me of Vita Sackville-West’s great poem The Land, and her intimate knowledge of her particular bit of England:

In February, if the days be clear,

The waking bee, still drowsy on the wing,

Will guess the opening of another year

And blunder out to seek another spring.

I wrote last month about my project for the year, a series of Books of Hours or contemporary illuminated manuscripts; I’ve begun with a large-scale book called Singing the Year, with text from The Land celebrating the cycle of the seasons and their ‘recurrent patterns on a scroll unwinding’.

The February page here shows a clear frosty starlit night in recognition of the pleasures of the season, rather than sleepy bees, but the poem also warns us:

Forget not bees in winter, though they sleep,

For winter’s big with summer in her womb.

So I’ve been making a few spells for the bees, while they sleep, in the hope that they will resume their summer vigour for another year:

Blessing the bees in winter is a very ancient tradition:

I found the text for Skep in the Greek Anthology; it’s by Diodoras Zonas, in a translation by Alistair Elliot. I particularly like the invocation to the bees themselves, encouraging them while simultaneously discreetly removing their stores. The text is lettered on a large sheet of creamy-white handmade paper, with a pen I cut from a piece of Thames driftwood, and an ordinary wooden peg.

Thrive adapts a text by Apollinides (from a translation by Peter Whigham in the Greek Anthology) in a paper construction made with different handmade papers reflecting the layered cells in the hive. The lettering is set to evoke the movement of the bees among the cells, regular, orderly but individual, singing. This time the text avoids mentioning the inevitable theft and confines itself to powerful words of blessing and encouragement. Amen to that.

Returning to the theme of the pleasures of the season – what Burns refers to in his line:

And O for the joys of a long winter night

– February is also of course the perfect moment for one of the great celebrations of the year, the feast of St Valentine, ‘the start of true spring’. Love is the theme of much of my work:

This group of pots includes a large celebratory wine jug, based on the inscription (by Lorenzo di Medici):

Viva Baccho, e viv’ Amore

– roughly: Long live Bacchus, and long live love! Amen also to that.

These two wine jugs both celebrate love. On the left, John Clare’s

Tis womans love makes earth divine

and on the right, the encouraging proposition from Thomas Shadwell:

Come let us agree there are pleasures divine

In wine and in love, in love and in wine.

And behind them, Burns’ blessing on a large dish:

Thine be ilka Joy and Treasure,

Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure.

Night is a One Elephant book made from a single sheet of handmade paper (70cm x 50cm), torn and folded into a sequence of pages, with a deeply sexy text from Spenser’s Epithalamion:

The text is set onto the blank sheet of paper, and then painted over, to give that feathery, floating effect. After painting and folding, but before tearing, the sheet of paper looked like this:

These books can be shown like this, framed on the wall, or folded as books, so that they can be read and handled, turning the book as the text follows the cycle of the pages.

Another of my One Elephant books very appropriate for the time of year is Amo Ergo Sum. Kathleen Raine’s profound and simple poem was the starting point for this book, where the text flows outward from a steady, glowing core, source of everything good, all-powerful, wholly benign:

The text here is lettered over the painting; before the lettering, it looked like this:

And once lettered, but before tearing, like this (you can see the sequence of the pages flowing out with the text from the core):

And once folded and torn, like this:

This beautiful text was also the inspiration for one of my new River Vessels:

This tall bowl is full of midnight blue, with the text lettered inside and out:

Because I love, there is a river flowing all night long.

Most of the work on this page is for sale, prices ranging from £75 for the Womans love wine jug to £500 for Skep. My One Elephant books are usually £300 – £400 each, with small elephants about £150 each, including individual slipcase. Every piece is a one-off, unique and original signed artwork. To find out more about any of my work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

As You I Am

March 30, 2010

Testimony is a double-sided work on paper, with some letters torn out to let the light through:

It’s made to hang in an internal window, or as a screen, so that you can see both sides:

I first showed it as part of my 2008 installation in the Poetry Library in London’s Southbank Centre, hanging in a plate-glass window that separated the Poetry Library from the theatre foyer, and the following discussion is taken from one of a series of gallery talks I gave for that exhibition.

from Working with words

Here in this library we are surrounded by messages from the living and the dead – who are often looking both ways into their own past and to the imagined future. In Testimony the siting in this particular space necessitates two views, one view outwards to the no-place of the foyer where the poet Kathleen Raine identifies herself in the past, ‘already gone’ – and one view inwards into the exhibition space where the poet looks forward into the future.

The two views pivot on the phrase that sides poet and viewer together in this moment, and identifies our common lot –

As you I am

– which works both ways in reminding us of the poet’s mortality and our own, and works both ways on the paper too, with the symmetrical letters torn through, making the words of air and light, and communicating the startling fact in a physical way. 

This pivot is at the centre of the poem here physically, and I’ve placed it exactly where it comes in the written text. The poet’s urge to be with us here, now, to speak aloud in our imaginations in the present moment, to join our now to hers, gives life to this physical context, amplifying her individual voice above the clamour, overcoming the limitations of time.

The surrounding text is written in ink with a peg pen, rather than lettered, referencing the personal nature of the words the poet uses to meet us at this point:

This woman whose hand writes words not mine

and the extremely compelling individuality of this hand-written message, invoking the future reader for the writer, as much as the poet is invoked for her reader. The unusual shape of the whole untorn sheet of handmade cotton-rag paper (70cm x 70cm) further reflects the duality of the text.

Signed one-off; about 70cm square; for sale £200

For some more paperworks from this exhibition and for sale, please see the Paperworks and Bookworks pages.

To buy or enquire about any work, please leave me a note in the comments box below or click on contact details.

All photographs copyright Liz Mathews.

Any use of these photos needs permission.