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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eco Printing on Deli Paper

I’ve done very little eco-printing in 2021, concentrating instead, on a return to painting. The programmes I’ve been taking part in have introduced me to a good many different ways of starting and progressing a painting, including various ways of incorporating collage. One idea I’d not come across before is through the use of deli paper. Deli is short for delicatessen and deli paper is used by delicatessans to wrap takeaway foods. Waxed on one side, unwaxed on the other, it’s thin and virtually transparent and when drawn or painted or printed onto, can be glued onto an artwork, adding another dimension to the work and can be made virtually or wholly undetectable as collage material.

I noted, in my experiments with deli paper (which can be bought in A3 sheets in large quantities at little cost) how strong it was and this made me wonder if it was sufficiently robust to survive the eco-printing process. I managed to produce the eco prints in the slideshow above, using some of the autumn leaves now littering my garden. I’m pleased with these first attempts. I used leaves I know will give up their colour – Sumac and Dogwood and St John’s Wort. I’ll be experimenting further with different kinds of leaves.

I like the idea of using colour in my paintings derived directly from plant matter gathered from my surroundings, and in this, making my paintings site-specific. I’ve already begun some paintings using the results of these deli paper eco prints.

Deli paper may not be acid-free and archival, but are rendered archival once glued-down and coated with acrylic medium (I used gloss, which also further enriches the colours).

If you’ve tried eco printing on deli paper, I’d love to see some of your works and any tips.

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Autumn Is Come

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

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The Last of the Handmade Markmakers – for Now

Here’s two mark-makers, out of one. It was originally a sponge roller. The sponge had deteriorated a bit. I took it off and replaced it with rubber bands. I cut notches into the sponge and now I’ve a sponge stamp as well as the rubber band roller.

I’ve now about forty handmade paintbrushes, rollers and stamps, equipping myself with the means of approximating, interpreting, representing many patterns to be found in nature. And I’ve used them to make a big stash of large monoprints to be cut or torn and used as collage material. I’ve made the monoprints, about 50 of them, on deli paper. Yes, that’s the paper used by delicatessens for wrapping food. More on that later.

All that’s left to do is to create some sensational artworks of staggering genius.

The easy bit.

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Even More Home-Made Paintbrushes

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them
as an artist.” Pablo Picasso

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More Home-Made Brushes

Though comical to look at, I do like the double-ended home-made brush with shuttlecock at one end and paper bag handles at the other. I had this plastic tube in my stash of stuff waiting to become useful. I decided to use it as a handle for a brush using some of my collection of paper bag handles as bristles.

Paper bag handles are made by twisting paper around a wire. This makes for a stronger handle. And the handle can be twisted and bent. And the handle, as the wire is fine, is easy to snip. I decided not to snip the handles, but to leave them as loops.

I’ve had a set of plastic badminton shuttlecocks for years. I can’t remember how I came to possess these, though in times gone by I was a keen badminton player. And I discovered that a shuttlecock base fitted exactly into the other end of the plastic tube. I got two brushes in one.

I like the delicate circles of dots made by the frilly skirt of the shuttlecock.

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