I had to be in Lincolnshire a couple of weeks back and dropped in on Lincoln. The first and last time I visited Lincoln’s cathedral was a staggering 46 years ago. All I could recall of that visit was the approach, an ascent so steep there were iron handrails to aid the less able and the awe-inspiring interior of the cathedral.
Aptly named Steep Hill still has those handrails and I was pleased to note that I still had no need of them.
Regrettably, I wasn’t able to be awestruck by the cathedral’s interior a second time as the cost of entry was prohibitive. A visit the cathedral’s shop was free, where I bought a bag of barley sugar sweets. The night before my visit I dreamt that I was handed two white, oblong pills (from beyond the grave) and told I needed to take glucose. The sweets I bought were golden, oval-shaped and transparent. I wondered why the cathedral shop was selling barley sugar sweets. Had the shop’s buyer unconsciously linked their appearance with stained glass?
Why was I to take glucose? Isn’t glucose just pure sugar, and carcinogenic? A web site devoted to the health benefits of glucose oxidase lists seven and is selling expensive pills in which glucose oxidase is an ingredient. The other ingredients are foods which you will be eating otherwise as part of a good diet.
Barley sugar was originally made from cane sugar and barley water. These days, barley is an option.
I don’t believe I was led all the way to Lincoln’s cathedral shop to buy barley sugar sweets. There are more interesting aspects of the dream to explore.
But I was reminded of a different dream in Stamford – where I was to meet artist Tim Mann. In St John the Baptist’s church in the town which dates to Roman times, Tim was creating a group portrait Crowded Room Stamford of people native to or passing through Stamford and by making an outline of each on a huge sheet of paper, drawing with a stick of red pastel. I had a flash forward to the end result of the work – resembling in my mind a huge living flame. And if you visit Tim’s Instagram page you will see another such group portrait which looks just like that.
I was reminded of a favourite passage from J B Priestley’s autobiographical work Rain Upon Godshill. It describes a dream. I’ve written about this in 2012 in A Collision of Chemicals. In the dream, Priestley is standing at the top of an immense tower, looking down on a vast river of birds, all flying together in the same direction. Time accelerates and dream turns to nightmare as he is forced to watch bird become generation of bird. He watches as each bird hatches, flutters into life, soars away, grows weak, falters, then dies. He watches as wings grow and crumble, bodies swell then shrivel. Everywhere is death, striking at every second. He watches and can perceive in all he sees … all the striving to live and keep on living – only an immense futility. He … becomes sick at heart. Then time speeds up even more and the flow of birds becomes, “like an enormous plain sown with feathers;…” and “…along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on,…” As soon as he sees this, he knows the flame to be, “…life itself, the very essence of being.”
It was wonderful, in Tim Mann’s group portrait, to be reminded of this dream, which was a revelation and celebration of spirit and in this corresponds with what is writ large on Tim’s home page: “For me, the spirit is more important than the physical.” And his work also takes the genre of group portraiture to a whole new level, just as Rembrandt did in his famous Night Watch.
But wait – Priestley’s dream is not the dream I was reminded of! It was one of my own.
It must have been 1998 when I had this dream. It was one of a huge cluster I had over a period of months and following on from the successive deaths, in under a year, of a (second) younger brother and both my parents. One series of dreams within the cluster besides foreshadowing my move to France, led me, when I got there, to visit the shrine of Ste Foye, in the abbey of Conques, southern France (Occitanie). But that is another story.
All of that cluster of dreams had meaning for me, except for one, in which appeared a personage called Dr Mann. An interpretation eluded me, except that, with its two–n ending, it fused man and ann (my name) to make mann (Mann). Researching Dr Mann led me up Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Looking up the mountain again I read of the novel – for the first time – that the only italicised text in the entire book is, “because of charity and love, man should never allow death to rule one’s thoughts.” That might have been an apt message at that time, given my circumstances.
And thus from Tom Mann to Tim Mann via J B Priestley in whom all three I find the gift to surmount death with ” … charity and love.”
Tim Mann was born and raised in Stamford and was able and keen to give me lots of information about the town. I was struck by the honey-coloured stone that constituted many of the (18th century) buildings. Tim told me it’s Collyweston (a stone slate that’s not slate but limestone but used to slate roofs). Walking Stamford’s streets gave me a strong impression of military activity and inexplicably, the American War of Independence came to mind.
Tim didn’t confirm the military thing. Unconvinced – I could hear shots in my head – research led me to His Majesty’s Tenth Foot (N Lincolnshire). I read, at www.redcoat.org:
“The Tenth Regiment played an important role in the early events of the American Revolution. On April 19th, 1775, the Light Infantry and Grenadier companies were part of the expeditionary force sent by General Gage to capture the arms being stockpiled by the militia in Concord, MA. On that day, the Light Infantry Company was present at both Lexington Green and Concord’s North Bridge when the First Shot and the Shot Heard ‘Round the World were fired. Both companies were engaged in the skirmish at Bloody Angle, near Lincoln, MA, and the desperate retreat back to Boston along what has become known as Battle Road.”
The regiment also played parts at other battles before being drafted back to England in 1778. Had an 18th century native of Stamford been one of the number of His Majesty’s Tenth Foot? And by the way, I didn’t put the bits about the shots into bold – that was the work of the author of the post. I am very spongy. And if I ever get into including people in my artwork, they might well resemble honeycombs. 🙂
Tim Mann draws round people (outlines them) as an act of respect. After he did my outline, he said – and he does this with all of his subjects, “you are special.” It sent a shock up my spine. And my spirits soared. This is portraiture that is a real engagement by the artist with his subject – a loving one – and, for me, it makes his work great art, because it is a new departure in the genre in that there is no distance between the artist and his subject.
I mentioned to Tim that I was also an artist and I also draw round things. This painting – Site – dating to about 1999/2000 – was arrived at by drawing round objects found while digging in my garden in France. I believed I was fixing them in place. Stilling them into now. I moved them around to indicate their histories – histories of past human activity – in various times and spaces. I see now that I was also honouring their histories, which, although the specific details are forever lost, could nonetheless be registered, and contained within their outlines. It was also like adding a gravestone to a grave. I see now that it was, too, an act of love, this outlining.
I abandoned this approach because I couldn’t justify it at that time. And I couldn’t validate the colours I was using. I am going to take up this technique again, using not oil colours, but encaustic waxes and authentic colouring – the colours of nature that are turning up in my eco prints.
“The ‘Crowded Room Stamford’ exhibition will open in the Arts Centre on Monday 27th March  and will be on display for two weeks. Tim is keen to invite everyone along to view the final portrait and the accompanying works of art, which he has created in collaboration with local students.”
For more information visit www.timmannartist.com