Posts Tagged ‘Snow’

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

February 10, 2021

Lockdown London looks particularly beautiful in snow, and when it snows, the first thing I do is go out and get a snowball to use for painting it. Here above is our London street, and below, the February page of my artist’s book From Grass to Harvest, which sets lines from Virginia Woolf’s The Years, one page for each month, in a concertina book that allows the December page and the January page to be tied together, so that the year circles seamlessly round. I painted the snow here with Titanium white mixed with snowmelt, so that the snow itself has a material presence in the painting – and took as my subject the view from our window of a street that Virginia Woolf passed along many times on her way to visit her friend Roger Fry, who lived nearby.

This book, indeed this page, features in an online preview of my forthcoming exhibition The Prospect of Happiness at Hampstead’s Burgh House, which was postponed from last year due to the first lockdown, but will be on show before too long. Meanwhile, I keep adding extra works into the preview, so it’ll probably need the Albert Hall by the time it’s actually installed; you can have your own private view here.

I love everything about snow – walking in it, writing in it, eating it, painting it, painting with it. I love how it covers up all the black plastic and the rubbish bins and transforms them, along with everything else, into elements of a visionary landscape of the imagination. I love how it starts stealthily, casually, and then builds to a great crescendo, whirling round the lamp-posts and obliterating everything that is not snow, until our London street becomes a country lane, timeless, uninhabited, silent, except for the faint breath of the falling snow. Last night, hearing a crystalline scratching, I looked up at our skylight to see nothing but an icy white blanket, and realised I was listening to the cosmic song of the snow.

These pages are from Snow like thought, my artist’s book setting a poem of that name by Jeremy Hooker. 

You can find the poem in his wonderful recent Selected Poems 1965 – 2018, from Shearsman Books, who say of him: ‘Jeremy Hooker is a literary explorer, and a poet with a powerful sense of place, whose joy in the landscape and his surroundings shines through the entire body of his work.’ I find his poetry constantly inspiring, and I love the way he always writes with a sense of the individual in the landscape, fully engaging with an always changing world. His poems evoke what he calls ‘an ever-elusive reality’ not by definitive description, but rather by allusive images, and a visionary openness that draws the reader into a closer relationship with the living landscape and the ideas and memories it embodies, ‘the life flowing through the leaf’. 

Snow like thought

because it arrives

seemingly from nowhere

small flakes wandering

sideways

down & up & down

then faster, heavier

bringing up

deeper silence

from some place not dreamed of

that was always there.

Each poem ends with a sense of underlying silence; it is where questions continue, and I hope to find a new beginning.

Jeremy Hooker, Selected Poems 1965-2018 (the poem and his words quoted by kind permission of the poet)

Inspired, I’ve just started work on a new artist’s book, with today’s fresh, timeless snow.  

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Snow in feathers

January 23, 2019

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Last evening we had a beautiful snow storm here in North London – huge snowflakes like swan’s feathers, and not just a flurry – a real blizzard, though it didn’t settle except on the icy grass of the gardens, and in drifts on the shed roofs. But in the darkness of the early evening on our street, the flakes swarmed round the lamp-posts and fell thick and fast, though the word heavy didn’t fit the scene – it was more a complex dance of thickly-falling lightnesses through the dark. We watched from the window for ages, warm indoors while people passed by on the snowy pavement, some hunched and hurrying, some snow-strolling in pleasure, and two little girls dancing along with their mouths open to taste the great feathery snowflakes. The scene reminded us of John Clare’s opening poem in his great cycle of the year The Shepherd’s Calendar, called January, A Winters Day:

Withering and keen the winter comes

While comfort flyes to close shut rooms

And sees the snow in feathers pass

Winnowing by the window glass

Clare evokes (with his usual idiosyncratic spelling) the feeling of a snowy afternoon, and the way everyone responds, starting with the farmer hanging out in the pub reading the paper or ‘old moores almanack’, which he believes every word of, as he believes his Bible:

Puffing the while his red tipt pipe

Dreaming oer troubles nearly ripe

Yet not quite lost in profits way

He’ll turn to next years harvest day

And winters leisure to regale

Hopes better times and sips his ale

– while the labourer still goes to work, ‘and braves the tempest as he may’, including the thresher, who’s ‘shuffling through the sinking snows/ Blowing his fingers as he goes’, to cut the hay from the stack and throw it in piles on the snow for the hungry cows. The shepherd in his great coat, with his dog sheltering from the wind behind his heels, ‘Takes rough and smooth the winter weather / And paces through the snow together’, while the lonely unused plough, like the horses idling in field and yard ‘pass time away / In leisures hungry holiday /…/ Dreaming no doubt of summer sward’.  

Clare’s sympathetic, observing vision shows us men and women at work and at enforced  leisure or unemployment, cows and dogs and hogs, cats, moorhens and geese, as well as schoolboys ‘never at a loss for play / Rolling up giant heaps of snow’ and ‘Making rude things’ until they’re ‘numbd wi cold’ and go off to find ‘hotter sports’ to play – kicking their football over the frozen ground or sliding the hours away on the ice and skating on the meadow lake. And the robin ‘picking the trifles off the snow’ thrown for him by a kindly woman, and perching on the windowsill to find the little hole in the window pane he remembers from last winter, to creep into the cottage warmth.

Version 3

For a moment yesterday evening it certainly did feel like winter in earnest, though our snow didn’t last (sadly no ‘crumping underfoot’). I made this paperwork on a sheet of handmade paper (30cm x 40cm) with beautiful deckle edges, mixing the watercolour and acrylic paints with snow-melt to give the painted snow a real material presence, and lettering the text with a little winter twig, before scattering and splattering the snow-melt snow at random over the whole scene, words and all. The words are from John Clare’s poem Snow Storm, which paints a picture of a familiar world transformed by winter:

Domestic spots near home & trod so oft

Seen daily – known for years – by the strange wand

Of winters humour changed…

Trees bushes grass to one wild garb subdued

Are gone & left us in another land

There’s something so engaged and so engaging about the clarity and recognisable truth of this vision that the reader stands beside Clare now, seeing with his eyes that magical transformation. Snow Storm was part of a huge collection of his poems that Clare fair-copied in c.1832 as The Midsummer Cushion, mostly written in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s, though many of the poems were still not printed on his death in 1864, and the collection wasn’t published in its entirety for over a century until 1979. It has been one of my bibles for the last 20 years, one of those books I turn to for truth, enlightenment, revelation, stimulation, inspiration, and solace in troubled times. Perhaps I could call it a complex dance of thickly-falling lightnesses through the dark. And sometimes things seem very dark.

Back in our January day in 2019, we were sorry not to wake this morning to a transformed world, ‘another land’, but maybe all we can do, with our ‘troubles nearly ripe / Yet not quite lost’, is hope for better times and sip our ale, like John Clare’s farmer. After all, there are weeks of possibility before the end of March.

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The Shepherd’s Calendar by John Clare (ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield, OUP 1964)

The Midsummer Cushion by John Clare (ed. Kelsey Thornton & Anne Tibble, Carcanet 1979)

Winter Snow  Paperwork by Liz Mathews with text by John Clare from Snow Storm, 30cm x 40cm, watercolour/acrylic on handmade cotton rag paper  For sale £250 unframed

The downs in snow (and the city too)

December 17, 2010

Another snowy post, because I can’t resist it. Late this morning we were waiting for a bus at the bottom of Highgate Hill when the snow suddenly started. Five minutes later it was already 3″ deep and blizzarding. I’ve never seen snow fall and settle so fast; as we walked we were snowmen almost immediately, and the streets and trees and houses instantly took on that wonderful black and white look (mostly white) – and then the sun came out and it was an Alpine scene in north London.

Virginia Woolf also couldn’t resist describing the beauty of the downs in snow again in her diary of January 1941 (as she did almost every year), and her evocative, understated text inspired this one elephant book, made from a single sheet of paper torn and folded to form the sequence of pages. The composition of the painted whole sheet reflects the folded squares of the paper, as well as the graphic layout of the fields:

With the pages torn, folded, and opened out, Frost looks like this:

As you can see, the text starts in the middle, to allow for the sweep of the downs’ skyline in the right place at the end of the sequence.

For more information about my one elephant books, or any of my work, please leave me a note in the comment box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

Winter is come

December 2, 2010

In this snowy week, I’ve been making an artist’s book setting a text from John Clare’s evocative poem Snow storm, called In another land. It’s made from one sheet of handmade paper, painted, lettered, torn and folded into a sequence of 6 double pages. I’ll show it to you page by page, and then describe the making process.

In considering the setting of a text for these books, it’s important to me that the overall design of the whole page should work as well as the individual pages – and that means bearing in mind that the book is turned as the reader reads, making the text on some pages upside-down and some sideways to the main overall image. With this text, I first folded the paper, then painted a snowy scene with sky, hills, and a winter tree overhanging a frozen path or stream with snow-mounded hedges:

Then I added the lettering (with its snowy burthen), following the cycle of the pages starting from top left:

Then, when this was dry, I painted and lettered the covers (in the right place) on the other side, and when those were dry, I tore the paper into the sequence of pages:

then folded the pages into sequence:

then I put it in my patent book-press:

Opened out, the finished work looks like this:

For more information about In another world, my other one-elephant books or 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.