Posts Tagged ‘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.