Weybourne, Roger Ackling and Transfiguration

weybourne-coastguard-cottages-ii-august-2016I wrote recently about my discovery of the late artist and teacher Roger Ackling. An article about Ackling in Resurgence & Ecology magazine had intrigued me; it was a review of a book –  Between the Lines –  memorials and tributes describing the artist’s life and artistic philosophy.

I’ve read the book from cover to cover; it has been added to my especial library, is one of a small handful of books in which I’ve underscored text on almost every page and will return to again and again. If you read my earlier blog, you will know that Ackling made his art by burning marks – dots, lines – into found driftwood, by directing the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass. The process typically required hours of concentrated focus, on all levels.

I learnt that Roger Ackling had had a house and studio in Weybourne, a village on the North Norfolk coast. Literally on the coast, for the house was the end house, nearest to the sea, of a short terrace of what once were coastguards’ cottages. I took the picture above in August this year of this terrace, of Ackling’s property, bought in the ’60s for a song because the sea was little by little encroaching by erosion on the group of dwellings and for certain, they would eventually be taken by the sea.

In the book, a photo of the group of dwellings shows a broad path between the edge of the cliff and Ackling’s house; in my photo, the sea has taken the path away, has advanced right up to a stone wall that marked the boundary between Ackling’s garden and the path. In time, too, the wall will go.

At the same time I discovered Roger Ackling and his Weybourne home and studio, I found I needed to go to Weybourne on personal business. Weybourne is a tiny fishing village in North Norfolk. It is of so little economic consequence, it seems, that the Government has ceased attempts to control the erosion of its coast by the sea. I cannot imagine the odds on anyone ‘having to be in Weybourne’.  That it coincided with my discovery of an artist with whom I would have found so much in common must lengthen the odds considerably. And so my necessary trip to Weybourne became also a kind of pilgrimage – to a house that, even if I’d found its situation, might have already fallen into the sea. I was going to see a house that might no longer exist, that had belonged to an artist now deceased, whose entire body of work was made by redirecting the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass in order to burn lines onto discarded pieces of wood that happened to wash up on the beach near a house about to fall into the sea.

Whether there was a house or not wasn’t important. As Ackling said, in an interview with Dr Judith Collins*, rather than the landscape itself, he was “… more interested in a mental state of mind while working.”  I deduce from this that it was not the artwork – the product – that was important, but the process, during which the artist would be transfigured. In the book I read that Ackling believed of art that it had “… the power to transfigure …” and that “… rituals performed in private can change the face of the world.” It follows that the change occurs following the transfiguration of the artist during the art-making process.

That Ackling used the term transfiguration, rather than say, transformation, I find significant. In the Transfiguration of Christ, Jesus and three of the apostles, Peter, James and John, go up onto a mountain to pray. While praying, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light.

There is nothing in the book to suggest that Ackling was a Christian. I suggest, however, that he clearly saw a correlation between Jesus’s Transfiguration, when bright rays of light began to emanate from him as he prayed, and his own artistic practice of using the sun’s rays to make his art. This is the ritual, equating to prayer, that has “… the power to transfigure …”  first the artist and consequently through him or her, the world.  The product – the artwork – is only important in that it is a manifestation of the invisible process. Said another way, the product is the process. Art as verb rather than noun, activity rather than object.  It shifts success as an artist away from the cash or other value of his or her product, to his or her transfiguration during the making of the object, and by extension, to the transfiguration of the world. Enlightenment.


* Dr Judith Collins is a curator of 20th century British art at the Tate Gallery in London. Her writings include the exhibition catalogue for Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition. This book as well as The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings by Cecil Collins and Brian Keeble (Ed) are also in my especial library.

Roger Ackling: The Ingleby Gallery
Roger Ackling: Annely Juda Fine ArtBetween the Lines: Occasional Papers


About AnnIsikArts

This entry was posted in Aesthetics, Art, book review, Creativity, Drawing, Inspiration, spirituality, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Weybourne, Roger Ackling and Transfiguration

  1. Dean Hughes says:

    Dear Ann I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Roger Ackling. My best wishes. Dean Hughes


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      Hello Dean

      Thanks very much for your kind comment. I enjoyed very much your paean ‘teaching allegorically’ in ‘Between the Lines’ and have just revisited it. I saw that I made a good many underlinings! I’ve also revisited your artwork online. I like your ‘Shelves’. I like the story of the spider, that your work enabled this event and that seems to double back to Roger’s teaching, which was as you wrote, an allegorical ‘enabling’. I hope I’ll get to see some of your work in ‘real life’ some day. I have moved house and am now only an hour or so from Weybourne, where I will go periodically to replenish my supply of sea water from the beach in front of Roger’s studio. I used some last year in which to dye some silk using firethorn berries. Tap water turned the silk chestnut red; the sea water – blue! Fire and water. 🙂


  2. Thank you for your fascinating post. I have walked past the coastal cottages so any times over the years, walking the North Norfolk coastal path from Sheringham to Weybourne and I’ve always wondered who has lived in such a remote spot on the cliffs. It is sad that such a talented artist is longer with us. However I will read Roger’s book and will remember him next time I am in Weybourne. He lived in such a beautiful part of the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AnnIsikArts says:

      They are still lived in, the cottages, or at least one of them, as while I was taking pictures, an old gentleman drove up to one of them. He smiled. I’m glad you are getting the book. I’m sure it will appeal to ‘one like yourself’. Yes, that area is wonderful. I also have a whole bunch of rusted ‘junk’ collected from Happisburgh beach, which you will know of and two large bottles of its sea water, for dyeing purposes. I hope to do that walk myself, one day, maybe next year. 🙂


      • That’s interesting. We had an interesting encounter with an elderly artist who drove up to us and was asking our help to try to find the view he had painted over 50 plus years ago. Happisburgh or Hazeburgh as the locals call it is another special place sadly suffering badly from coastal erosion. The lighthouse and the cottages are amazing. What sort of junk do you find? I’m fascinated about sea water being used for dyeing fabric….We often see seals in the area. Every time I think about the Norfolk coast I feel inspired but also very peaceful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • AnnIsikArts says:

        Rusted stuff of any kind. While folks were sunbathing in bikinis my husband and I were filling a bucket with anything rusted – we found a lot washed up against the dunes hidden in grass mainly. And lugging sea water! Sea water is used as a mordant/fixative and also changes the colour slightly in some dyeing processes. I still have a bottle of Happisburgh sea water under the table in my studio. 🙂


      • I bet your rusted up stuff is fascinating! And fun to collect! I collect stuff from the edge of fields, in woodlands, odd patterned and beaten up stones or gnarled wood. I love driftwood and stones. Thanks for telling me how you use seawater. I’ll have to remember your tip. I fancy dyeing with natural things. Sounds like the Happisburgh potion is precious!

        Liked by 1 person

      • AnnIsikArts says:

        My husband learned the hard way not to go walking with me without an empty backpack. 🙂


  3. Jane Buckholz says:

    I very much enjoyed what you had to say here about my brother, Roger, and his work. I have no doubt he would have enjoyed talking with you, if your paths had crossed sooner.


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      Thank you, Jane. I’m glad I wrote nothing that added to the pain of your loss. I can well sympathise. I have lost three younger brothers and the eldest of them, Peter, with whom I grew up, died, like Roger, of Motor Neurone Disease. I would so have liked to have met and known your brother. I’m 65. Had I gone to art school at the usual age, we might indeed have met. I was in my 30s however, when I did my fine art degree. His work, his life, what others have written about him in ‘Between the Lines’ has inspired and strengthened me. I am looking them all up online, one by one. It was very odd to stand in front of the house in Weybourne. At my ‘appointment’ earlier, I mentioned I was going to look for a house that might have fallen into the sea where a famous artist used to live. There was a catch in my voice and tears rose stupidly to my eyes. How odd to find myself in mourning for someone I’d never met.
      Thank you for writing. Ann


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