Bloganuary 27: Thin Places

“Nothing can be done without solitude. I’ve created my own solitude which nobody suspects.” Pablo Picasso. (AZ Quotes)

I am sickened [it read] by the spectacle of your obstinately closed door. It indicates that a new aristocracy has been created, transcending classes—one that finds ordinary people not worthy of notice. What do you care that I am starving as a poet? But you are wrong, because no matter how great a creative genius you may be, you cannot prevent posterity from classifying you as the symbol of an age in which man has revealed himself incapable of making judgments on a moral basis. (A generation has the artists it deserves.) Ours is the age of the hyena and the jackal…. Monsieur Picasso, you are walled off within your citadel…. Outside is the street and the street is tomorrow…. I find you enormously gifted, but what a mess you leave for those who follow!

The Atlantic Magazine: Picasso Speaking: Carlton Lake, Paris critic for The Christian Science Monitor recounts a visit with Pablo Picasso at his home.

The it in the above, is the content of a poster. Several copies had been stuck to the railings of Picasso’s residence (situated on a slope rising from Cannes) and almost torn off, rendering them unintelligible. This one, unmutilated, had been stuck to a neighbour’s fence.

Picasso achieved immense fame in his lifetime. His artistic innovations still cast their shadows over the art world. Art would not be what it is today without the Picasso inheritance. When I did my fine art degree in the 1980s, I chose to write my dissertation on Picasso’s pivotal 1907-08 work: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, so that I could lay his ghost. I was actually trying to find out where my work stood historically in relation to his, though sadly, I didn’t know this at the time.

In order to do his work, Picasso created his own solitude which nobody suspects. I don’t think this references a place in space and time. His residences and studios besieged by starving poets and others wanting to touch his cloak, I think he found places from which to create that were not plotted on any map. I think these were his thin places.

I’ve just recently written about thin places. Having just recently come across the expression, in the form of the Irish Gaelic: Caol ait or Ait Caol, I realised that these are the places I go for solitude, so that I can do my work and that these are places that can only be mapped poetically. That is, they are not in the concrete world. I think they can be accessed via certain known physical places – google thin places to find these – but also via places particular to each individual.


Posted in Art, Creativity, Inspiration, Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bloguanuary 24: A Dream and a Pilgrimage

Ignoring the gruesome grammar (left) for it would be impossible to write about a dream I do not remember, I am today prompted to write about a dream.

This is an account of a dream that sent me on a pilgrimage from northern to southern France.

I have kept a dream diary for over three decades. There have been phases of my life when I’ve dreamt whole series of dreams, sometimes as several dreams a night. One of these series began before I moved to France – and before I even knew I was to move to France. The series continued after the relocation, persuading me to journey to a place in the South of France which had turned up in these dreams. I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I see it as a sort-of pilgrimage, especially as it concerned three saints; and the route, for my journey took me from Paris to Conques, in the Occitan region of southern France and following one of the French pilgrim routes to Compostelle (Compostela) in northwestern Spain, where is the shrine of St Jacques/Santiago/St James.

Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My pilgrimage was to see, in Conques, the relics of Ste Foy, which are kept in the church of the Abbaye de Conques.

Ste Foy translates to St Faith. It is not the saint’s real name, which is not known. She is said to have been martyred in the fourth century at the age of nine for refusing to renounce the Christian faith, resisting even the pleas of her own mother.

Out of my series of dreams concerning Ste Foy I recall most vividly one that was very short, comprising a single vivid image and an equally short but precise message. This dream occurred after I had moved to France, had discovered the connection between Ste Foy and the Church of the Abbey at Conques, for the image in the dream was of what I came to know as the western entrance, which has a tympanum over the door depicting The Last Judgment.

Relics of Ste Foy

In the dream, a woman was standing in front of the door, beneath the tympanum. It was sunny. The woman’s face was not a generic image; it was very clear and very individual. She was smiling at me, broadly. I recall her as being in her forties, but younger-looking. Her most striking feature was her jet-black hair, which was bobbed and very straight. And she said to me, “Look up Ste Foy and Ste Marguerite.” That was all. And that was the entirety of the dream.

This was a new direction for me to take in this series of dreams. It was the first mention of a Ste Marguerite. What connection could there be between a Ste Foy and a Ste Marguerite? Was there one, even, or was I just dreaming?

I was not just dreaming. There was most certainly a connection between Ste Foy and a Ste Marguerite. The bridge between the two is in the word Canada. But that’s another story.

I made my sort-of pilgrimage and stood in front of the relics of Ste Foy. And in front of that tympanum. The journey down into the valley wherein sits the abbey is spectacular. So was the abbey. So were the relics of the Saint. I was sad that Conques was too far from Paris to visit on a regular basis.

Shortly after, my husband and I began looking for a house to buy that would be within commuting distance of Paris. We drew a circle on a map and started house-hunting. And I came across the name Conches-en-Ouche. Intrigued by the similarity between Conches and Conques I found to my astonishment, that there was in the town, an Eglise Ste Foy. One Raoul III, returning from a pilgrimage to Spain, had stopped off at Conques and saw there the relics of Ste Foy. Raoul must have been impressed for the saint was made patroness of the church he constructed in Conches-en-Ouche.

We did go to see a house for sale in Conches-En-Ouche. While we were there we visited the church. Everything in the church was about the parallels between Conches-en-Ouche and Conques. There was the story of the martyrdom of Ste Foy, her relics in Conques and there were pilgrimages arranged between Conches and Conques. And the house we eventually bought was within driving distance of Conches-En-Ouche.

Leaving Conches, we drove back to Paris in passing through some villages surrounding the town. One of them was called Ste Marguerite.


Posted in Blogging, Christian writing, Dreams, Dreams, Inspiration, spirituality | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bloganuary 22: The Impossible Finch and The Machines

A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. …

Reif Larsen: The Selected Works of T S Spivet

I experienced a little thrill when I first read the above, for it defined me precisely.

It’s no coincidence that I call my blog ‘Poetic Mapping: Walking into Art’. Thoughts come as I work and walk (as artist and writer) that seemingly have no connection. When these thoughts arrive, I know I’m at the start of a Great Walk by the conclusion of which I’ll have bridged the disparate ideas, and arrived at an epiphany. It could be said that my life is a map of epiphanies.

Here’s an example: some years ago my cat killed a bird in the garden. He hunted; it was his nature and I could do nothing to stop him; but I was devastated on this occasion, more so than usual, especially because on examination I had discovered something extraordinary about the bird, a young finch. And I began to think of my late brother and how as a little boy he used to make crude ‘machines’ from off-cuts of wood and nails scavenged from our Granda’s shed. And I knew there was a connection between my late brother’s little machines and the little impossible dead bird. And that I was to traverse the terrain between the two ideas until they converged. Make a bridge between them.

Oh, and I’ve been interrupted while writing this. My husband came in from the garden just now and told me there was a bird trapped in a hedge that bounds one side of our property. It was a ringed-necked dove and had somehow got itself between two layers of wire netting erected by our neighbour. I was able to free the bird and it flew off, protesting loudly at its saviour!

Was this compensation for the bird I couldn’t save? I’m going to believe so.

P S I bought the book of course. And there’s a film; it’s called: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and stars Helena Bonham-Carter as the mother of T S.



Posted in Art, Blogging | Leave a comment

Bloganuary21: Time Travelling to 9/11

The idea of Bloganuary is to post a blog every day, in response to a prompt. Today, the prompt is asking me: if I could travel through time, which year would I choose to travel to and why.

My immediate response to the question was: What do you mean, if I COULD travel through time?

Bloganuary is a WordPress blogging initiative. I’ve missed most of Bloganuary because WordPress didn’t invite me to take part until today, 21 January. Oh, well. Time travelling gone wrong.

H G Wells’ novella The Time Machine was first published in 1895. The Time Traveller, though he travels to various destinations far into the future and back again, spending some time at each destination – especially the first – is yet not presented as being any older on his returns than on his departures. And the time he spent in future times, is far longer than perceived, after his return. This is explained in Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity – E=MC². Einstein’s Theory however was published in 1905; The Time Machine, was published in 1895, some 10 years earlier.

The prompt, arriving today, coincided with a subject I’d been pondering, earlier today. It was about the different kinds of dreams we have. And I found it difficult to arrive at any way of organising them into classes. A big reason for this is that the word dream isn’t specific enough. What exactly is a dream? One dictionary definition is: a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. Which gives rise to the question: what is sleep? Definitions generally agree that sleep is a state of mind and body, is a time of altered consciousness during which muscular activity is reduced and there is little to no interaction with the physical environment. Which gives rise to he question: what is consciousness?

There are kinds of dreams that suggest travelling through time as a possible explanation for their contents. Three of these types of dreams come to mind. All three I have experienced.

Lucid Dreams are dreams during which we become aware we are dreaming. From my experience, a number of scenarios follow: I continue to dream knowing I’m dreaming; I do that and sometimes also have the ability to control the further narrative of the dream; I awaken once I’m aware I’m dreaming, whereupon the dream continues in the form of a movie (film) strip in front of my closed eyes; the latter happens and I also have the ability to manipulate the narrative of the dream – this happens when I’m not happy with the nature and content of the dream: I want to change it, so I do. My lucid dreams have always taken place in a ‘scape of some kind and I’d conjecture therefore that this kind of dream may occasion time travel.

Distant Or Remote Viewing dreams are those during which we are able to acquire spatially and temporally remote information. From my own experience, two occasions come to mind where, in dreams, I accessed specific information that in one case, I discovered to be accurate afterwards and in a second, made specific research that verified the information presented in the dream. I’d suggest that this kind of dream may involve time travel.

Perhaps the most spectacular kind of dream is the pre-cognitive dream, in which events yet to come are revealed to the dreamer. My most profound experience of pre-cognitivity came about not while asleep at night and dreaming, but as an artist, during the day, making art. I have two drawings describing – the first of which I made the week before and the second, only a day before – a major catastrophic event. I have subsequently discovered that artists around the world had the exact same experience in respect of that event. Think: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: the Richard Dreyfuss character! It is my experience, as an artist, that such kind of pre-cognition arrives because artists routinely enter into altered (dream) states of consciousness, some of which may be described as time travel, during the creative process.

Are there ways one can learn of an event yet to come that doesn’t require travelling through space-time? Well, one could be informed of an event yet to come by others who travel through space-time, who want you to know about it. Define others how you will.

And so, my answer to the question of which year would I choose to travel to were I able to travel through time, might be: to whichever year in space and time I am directed. I would certainly choose to travel to space-times in America, to 9/11/2001, to try and prevent the events that happened, at those particular spaces and in that particular time.



Posted in Art, Dreams, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Collage and the Loss of Wonder

When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

I’m repeating this image and this quote from my last blog because it came to me that the quote, while it specifically references photography, can apply equally to other branches of the visual arts. It certainly may apply to certain kinds of collage. There are all sorts of reasons for collage. Here’s a link to an article on the history of collage.

My collage is for a project. While it falls as usual under the canopy of Poetic Mapping, I’ve not been able until recently to name the project satisfactorily to myself (and naming is important). There is nothing to do in this situation but carry on working and wait – and pray if you are so inclined – for the name to turn up. And it did, in the form of Caol Ait: Thin Place. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds; a place where the veil between two worlds is thin; a place where heaven and earth are close together; a threshold or portal.

The collage consists of images of different kinds of prints on paper of plant matter but predominantly eco prints of leaves gathered from around the periphery of the pond in my garden. This is one of my thin places.

The Roland Barthes quote above speaks of the photograph as an image having the quality of motionlessness, qualifying this further as a non-emergence, as a not-leavingness, as an act of anaesthetising and a fastening-down in the [cruel] manner in which butterflies are killed and pinned. I shouldn’t make the pun – but I will – and write that Barthes seems, in this quote, to be somewhat negative about the positive. Ouch.

I saw how the collage could be described similarly. It could be argued that the eco-print process – consisting of trapping leaves as a sort-of sandwich filling between cloth or paper, rolling this up tightly around a rod into a bundle then subjecting the bundle to extreme heat and steam – is a form of cruelty to leaves, unless the leaves have been gathered dead from the ground. The prints (or other types of collage material) have then been glued to a substrate, at which point they are indeed motionless, non-emerging.

But it came to me that in trapping an image in a collage the artist is preserving an observation of something of wonder to him/her (etc) and presenting it to the larger world to wonder at in its turn.

The image does not need to be a replication of plant matter. It can be an impression, a mark like musical notation that triggers a quickening in the artist that will transfer in turn to the viewer.

It’s possible that much art and perhaps especially art that arises from the contemplation of nature, is saying, “Look here at what I’ve found; it filled me with wonder. Is it not wonderful?”

And I wonder at this. At whether – if you believe in a Fall (however you visualise or otherwise structure that for yourself) – a great deal of what was lost in that immense catastrophe, could be called Wonder. I do believe in a great catastrophe. I can’t explain why. It struck me unexpectedly one day, one moment, like a bolt out of the blue and it’s now buried in my bones.

Here’s as close I can get to making sense of that. It’s from the fascinating Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:

Adam in his original creation was in spiritual illumination. Spirit breathed into him continually the necessary inspiration and knowledge to give him superior understanding. But he began eating, or appropriating, ideas of two powers–God and not God, or good and evil. The result, so the allegory relates, was that he fell away from spiritual life and all that it involves.

This definition has distinct echoes of Eastern Spirituality, for me. Food for thought, anyway, if you’ll pardon the pun. Another one.

Posted in Art, Christian writing, Collage & Assemblage, Creativity, Eco/Natural Dyeing and Printing, Mixed Media, Monoprinting, Painting, Quotes, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thin Place Peripherals

Study: Eco Prints on Wood Panel

When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

Posted in Art, Collage & Assemblage, Eco/Natural Dyeing and Printing, Printmaking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


Posted in Photography | Tagged | Leave a comment

Caol Áit – A Thin Place

I’d not heard of thin places until just a couple of weeks ago, from Wheel of Seasons.

It seems I’m one of the very few who are not familiar with the expression. And yet, it is such an apt description of what I’m trying to achieve in my work, it seems almost impossible that I’ve only just now come across it.

A thin place is described as (for example): a place where one can walk in two worlds; a place where the veil between two worlds is thin; a place where heaven and earth are close together; a threshold or portal.

Eric Weiner, in The New York Times describes a thin place as “… not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún. Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”

From a review at Hermitary: resources and reflections on hermits and solitude, of Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space: “Bachelard relates an anecdote about Rilke. One dark night, Rilke and his friends were about to cross a field when they saw “the lighted casement of a distant hut, the hut that stands quite alone on the horizon before one comes to fields and marshlands.” They felt like “isolated individuals seeing night for the first time.” For the dark background of our lives is assumed as inevitable until a flash of insightful light is seen. As Bachelard puts it:

One might even say that light emanating from a lone watcher, who is also a determined watcher, attains to the power of hypnosis. We are hypnotized by solitude, hypnotized by the gaze of the solitary house; and the tie that binds us to it is so strong that we begin to dream of nothing but a solitary house in the night.

The expression thin place Caol Ait, expressed also as Ait Caol (pronounced Coal Ate) – is Irish Gaelic, but the concept of thin places derives from peoples who inhabited Ireland before the Celts. These are those who constructed the cairns and the dolmen. From The Wild Geese, a site exploring the heritage of the Irish worldwide:

When the Celts arrived, they interpreted the dolmen and passage tombs as structures built by the gods and goddesses who inhabited the land — the Tuatha de Danaan, or the Tribe of Danu. These gateways were portals to the Tuatha’s domain and venturing too close could yield disastrous results for humans.

The images in the slideshow are excerpts from a series of paintings in progress. They derive from a little pond in my garden, and its environment. It is no more than a tiny man-made parcel of water, but I recognise this, now, as one of my thin places.

I’ve walked back and forth past this watery interval in the landscape, for over 13 seasons, as I write; and at times stood its edge just looking into and at the vegetation around it. There came a day it seemed to me, an eye, an ever-open, unblinking eye in which nature was endlessly reflected – through which it nature constantly passed. It was the eye of a hermit. So I came to know my pond as The Hermit’s Eye. And another day came when, passing by and glancing into it, it looked back at me. And I realised that whomever or whatever I was referencing as The Hermit was trying to converse with me and that my work was to find out whatever it was trying to communicate to me.

It’s been slow progress. Recently I’ve not been able to paint at all due to illness. But I have three series of six paintings (18) in progress. They are small, but this is the most work I’ve ever had on the go for many many years. I need to paint larger so I’m about to start on a series of slightly bigger works, increasing the size of the ground incrementally.

Painting in series is new to me. The principle is that you move constantly from one painting to another. The length of time spent on any one painting isn’t fixed, however – it can be as little as or even less than 15 minutes and this depends entirely on feeling. It’s a principle of the art programme I’ve been taking part in for most of 2021.

I couldn’t at first paint in series, but now I can’t ever imagine not painting in series. During an engagement with a work, you watch what’s happening with your emotions. I found that at some point there’s a freezing up. The painting has developed some interesting, even beautiful areas, that I want to keep, but the rest isn’t working and radical action is called for and I can’t take it. I’m anxious; I’ve become precious about those interesting areas; I can’t paint over them; the usual negative inner voices turn up. Instead of suffering, one moves on to the next painting. It’s a new challenge; enthusiasm returns. Each painting in the series stimulates ideas to carry over to another, or even sparks a new series.

That’s how I came across Caol Ait – thin places. I call this blog Poetic Mapping. It is the overarching name for my art work. The term came to me while I was living in France. I’ve no idea where it came from. It just dropped into my head that that was what I was trying to do. I saw that what I was trying to do was to map out where I was, but not in a cartographical sense. And now I know more, that what I am trying to do is find and map the thin places in my life.

There are books about what are considered thin places, indexes of famous physical places such as Stonehenge, or Iona, around the world. Such places are containers of energy, the quality of energy that compels conversation with a small parcel of water. The why of that conversation is another story.

Posted in Aesthetics, Art, Creativity, Painting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

COP26 : Why We Must Not Look At Goblin Men

As a gardener as well as an artist – and gardening for this artist means growing plants for food, for natural dyeing/eco printing and for the spirit – the 2021 gardening year has been notable for its length. The images in the slideshow are all in bloom as I write, on 16 November, with the exception of the Japanese Anemones, which, however, have only just finished blooming. The tomato plants, which are growing outdoors, not in the greenhouse, are still bearing fruit.

I know of gardeners who are rejoicing. I started writing this as one of them, but as I was writing, I found myself thinking of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and wondered why and so I dug it out to read again. And as the saying goes, was reminded of the errors of my ways.

This extract from the poem reminded me of the dangers of intensive farming which relies for it success on the use of insecticides and genetically-modified crops, resulting, for instance, in the decimation of bee populations. The protagonist in the poem is Laura, who is warned by her sister Lizzie:

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots

But Laura bought their fruits and marvelled at their perfection. Fruits which bloomed at all the wrong times. She kept one kernel stone:

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watch’d for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,

It never felt the trickling moisture run:

Laura was saved by her sister Lizzie.

I hope we know who those goblin men work for, and that they aren’t only those who stayed away from Cop 26 (for what harm can goblins do if they do not go among the folk and tempt them with their fruit). I hope we know who Laura’s sister works for and that COP26 will be the sister who will save us.

Rossetti wrote Goblin Market in 1859. Like all great art, its message is as powerful and as valid today as it was when it was written 162 years ago.

It’s funny when you sit down to write one thing and end up writing the opposite.

Posted in Activism, Blogging, Poetry, Quotes, spirituality, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering today …

My grandfather George William Shanks, DCO; and his brother, my great-uncle Edwin Shanks (commemorated in stone at the Canadian Cemetery, Vis-en-Artois, France).

My grandfather won this medal for bravery in the field; he went out and fetched a wounded officer back into his trench out of No-Man’s-Land. He won a second medal for bravery later in the war.

His brother enlisted at 14 and followed my grandfather out to the French trenches; when my grandfather found out, he had him sent back to England. But Edwin re-enlisted and was killed in 1917, his body never identified, near the Belgian border.

Not forgotten.

Posted in Art | Leave a comment