Endless Rain

18 August Sunday

Before the sun sets today, there will be a new owner of the Liam MacCarthy Cup. It is the big day for the All-Ireland hurling final. The counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny are in a frenzy. Many thousands of fans will be traveling to Dublin for the match at Croke Park. Everyone else will be watching the game in bars or at home. The build-up and excitement has been immense. People are all sporting the Tipp colours of gold and royal blue. The colours are more and more wide-spread every day. Shirts and flags and pennants and caps and dangling car fresheners in the shape of shirts and the funny little lengths of braided wool that appear before every big match. I am fascinated by these braids. I imagine the lengths of yarn being carefully braided by grandmothers and mothers to be hung on car mirrors, antennas and handbags. Any bit of decoration is good as long as it shows the Tipp colours. The Kilkenny colours are yellow and black. These are neighbouring counties with a long and fierce rivalry. A small stone bridge on the border has been painted so that one side is blue and gold and other side is black and yellow.  Every interaction has people discussing whether or not they will be attending the match in person. Nobody has asked me where, or even if, I will be watching the match. Once the match is won, The Liam MacCarthy becomes the important and cherished thing. The word Cup is dropped. And it is never called a trophy.  The Liam MacCarthy will be held high on the top of the bus in the parade for the team when they come home from Dublin. The Liam MacCarthy will travel up and down the county for a year and it will appear in hundreds of photographs. It will be taken to schools and sports centers and old peoples homes and any number of places where groups are gathered. It seems that every single person wants to be photographed with The Liam MacCarthy.

16 August Friday

There was a bright dry spell after lunch. I spent two hours scraping moss and some horrible slimy stuff off the concrete area outside my workroom. There were brown globs of the stuff all over the place. At first I thought they were excrement, maybe from the fox. On closer examination, I saw that they were kind of translucent and more sepia than brown in colour. If I saw these globs on a beach I would assume they were some kind of seaweed. Stepping on them was dangerous. Moss is slippery enough but these globs were extremely slippery. These globs were deadly. I do not know what to call them. Globs is as good a word as any. I filled an entire wheelbarrow with moss and globs and a few opportunistic weeds that were growing out of the cement and between the stones. By the time I finished, it began to rain. Again.

15 August Thursday

Acting the Maggot is a way of saying that someone is messing. A person who is a messer would Act the Maggot without a second thought. Most farmers are happy for us to walk through their land but they would not be happy if we were to be Acting the Maggot. Acting the Maggot might just be some rowdy and foolish behaviour or it might be reckless and destructive. There is a certain amount of disrespect involved with such bad behaviour. It might be a lot of disrespect or it might be a little.

14 August Wednesday

I have filled another huge bowl with more black currants. They just keep coming. And now the raspberries are ripening. That means more picking in an everyday kind of way. Apples and plums are barely visible. After the heavily laden branches of last year, it is a shock to see how few apples there are on any of the trees. There is one tree that is having normal growth and production but most of the trees are leafy and lush with no apples at all. As always, I have been keeping a careful eye on the figs. It has been disappointing to see how few there are. This morning I walked up the stone steps to go into the small mezzanine room and I could barely get in the door. The fig branches and leaves had taken over the top of the steps and all of the branches up there were full of fruit. Once inside the room the thick foliage took over the entrance. It was a battle to get in and a battle to get out. One side of the tree is devoid of figs and the other side is full of figs. Now I must pay regular attention so that the birds do not get more than me.

12 August Monday

The rain is sort of endless. It is endless but erratic. There are moments of blazing sunshine and blue skies but every day there is rain. It is not cold rain. But it is rain. The days are warm and often muggy and the rain is a constant. Sometimes it falls straight out of the sky in an enormous heavy downpour and then it stops abruptly. The sky clears and it is bright and then it buckets down again. Sometimes it is an off and on again drizzle that never ceases but it never really stops anything from happening. A man walked out of the shop this morning and he pointed up at the sky. He announced, “He is very cross That Man Up There. The only way to please Him is to go to Mass five times a day but I’ll not be doing that! I carry an umbrella wherever I go.” I was the only person around. Even so, I am not certain that he was talking to me.

11 August Sunday

When I first discovered the Distemper Brush, I loved it. I wanted to buy it but I did not need it. I just wanted it. I took a photograph of it on the painted cement floor of the hardware shop. I kept thinking about it. Eventually I just had to buy the brush, so I bought it and brought it home. I hung it on the wall where I admire it daily. I sent photographs to Laurie and she made a beautiful drawing of the brush for my book Too Raucous for a Chorus. I have kept an eye on the section of the hardware shop where the brush was hung. It was the only one in stock when I bought it and to this day it has not been replaced. Maybe there is not much demand for painting with distemper these days. Now I have made a postcard of the brush so I can share it more widely. I am loving the postcard nearly as much as the brush itself.

10 August Saturday

It was disappointing not to see The Crosswords from Clogheen this morning. I wanted to ask them if the Sheep Racing had taken place as scheduled last week in spite the heavy rain. I was ready with a lot of questions about how they get the sheep to line up and how they get them to go in the same direction and how they get them to keep going in the same direction. I wondered if perhaps there was a sheepdog in the back urging them forward or at least not allowing them to change direction. I wondered what sort of marking or numbering they used to keep track of each sheep contestant. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it all. I am sorry that I did not drive over in the lashing rain just on the off chance that the race took place. It might not have happened but it might have. Either way, I am sorry to have missed it.

8 August Thursday

There is always another dead bird. This is the first time that I have picked up a bird with a plate. This bird smashed into a window. When I found it, it was still warm but it was dead. The plate has been useful as I moved it around to keep it out of the sun. It is time to toss it over the hedge but I keep looking at it. I wish I knew what it was.

7 August Wednesday

Marian bemoaned that the summer is Flying By. She said, “That’s what happens when June doesn’t fall good.” She said, “Summer never works if you don’t have a June.”

Sheep Racing at 7 o’clock.

5 August Bank Holiday Monday

People often substitute the word Ye in place of the word You. They use it in conversation and they use it in text messages.  To my ear it sounds almost biblical. (Are ye back yet?) I love hearing it and I love reading it but I cannot use it myself   I cannot incorporate it into my speech.  It would sound false in my mouth.

4 August Sunday

I knew there would be rain. I  believed the forecast. The forecast was for The Odd Passing Shower. The forecast promised that the showers would hold off until the afternoon. I walked up and around Knockperry. As usual, I wondered about the carved head installed in someones wall. I always intend to ask someone somewhere about its history. I always forget.  I got two thirds of the way around before the skies opened. I had no rain jacket and there was no shelter up there so I just kept walking. I got soaked through. Not one part of me was dry. There is a small encampment of travellers just before the road drops down. Actually it is just one caravan and one horse trailer and a bunch of stuff scattered around. Two dogs huddled underneath the caravan and watched me walking by in the pouring rain.  I had been told that there was Sheep Racing scheduled for 7 o’clock in Clogheen. I was eager to see how anyone could convince sheep to race against one another, much less run in the same direction, but the rain was so heavy that I never got to Clogheen to find out.

3 August Saturday

Maurice told me that the word Áras means large building. It suggests a residential building. An abode. A dwelling. Maybe a castle. He said that the central Bus Station in Dublin which is called Bus Áras is not literally translated as Bus Station but should instead  be The Bus Castle.

2 August Friday

The room where the wake was being held was not large. There were family members in chairs along two of the walls. The deceased was laid out in a coffin against the wall at the far end of the room. We filed in behind others in the single line and we shook hands with each member of the family. We repeated our condolences and we said “I am sorry for your loss” over and over again. When a person reached the coffin, he or she stopped and crossed themselves. I did not cross myself. I just continued to the next group of family members.  As always, the room was hushed and the lighting was subdued. When we first arrived and before we had been able to enter the room with the family and the dead man we had to wait in a small line. It was not a long line, but first we were out on the pavement in the sunshine and then we stood in a little entry hall. As we were waiting to take our turn an elderly man came out and he shook the hands of each one of us who were waiting to go in. He said, and then repeated again and again, “I will have to die myself to ever be this popular.”

1 August Thursday

I miss walking up the mass path. It is thick with all of the growth of summer. It is not possible to walk with shorts and short sleeves without being attacked by the nettles and the brambles. Even with long trousers and long sleeves the tangle is winning. I am missing out on a lot of installments of growth and animal movement and bird activity. I do not even know all that I am missing. It will not be long before I am able to move through it all again without too much of a struggle. It will be like no time has passed.

 

31 July Wednesday

Picking black currants and picking more black currants. The picking does not end. The currants are fat and delicious but I am beginning to wish there were not so many of them.

 

30 July Tuesday

We took the ferry from Liverpool. It was a new way for us to return from England. The boat was mostly freight. There were only a few cars on boat. We were the very last car to board because we drove round and round the area looking for the dock which was not signposted in any way. Everyone had begun to eat when we got upstairs from the vehicle deck. It was 8 o’clock. Our food was included as part of the fare price. We all ate our hearty suppers as the boat prepared to leave and within half an hour of announcing that food was being served, the Phillipino kitchen staff started clearing it all away. Everything was completely gone before we even left the enormous harbour of Liverpool. Most of the truck drivers knew this so they took two helpings of the steamed pudding with loads of custard in case they missed their chance. There were no more than fifteen tables spread between two rooms. Since everyone was eating at the same time it was easy to see that there were not many people on board. In the room where we ate there was a large round table with a few smaller tables close by around the edges. Everyone who sat at the round table was a lorry driver from Northern Ireland. Maybe they all knew each other from earlier crossings. Maybe they did not know each other from earlier crossings. I think the brotherhood of truck drivers means that they did know each other simply by their job. They were all in the same club. They discussed the tiny utilitarian cabins which we had all been assigned. They commented on the narrow little bunks. Several of the men remembered ferries where they had been required to bring their own sheets and pillows along with them. There was a nostalgia about this, either for the time or for where those those journeys had taken them. This ferry did not seem to be of this time, but the drivers were remembering even less modern journeys. We listened to the men discuss their travels. They had all been away to different places and now they were all going home. Being at the center of the room placed both them and their exchanges on stage. The lights started dimming. By 9 o’clock we were all encouraged to head down to our teeny cabins to sleep.

At 5 am, there was a loudspeaker announcement regarding the serving of breakfast. Then a person walked down the corridor tapping twice on each door with a key or some metallic object to make sure we were awake. We heard our own two taps and we heard the tapping continuing down the hallway. We climbed back up the steep ladder-like staircase, where everyone ate porridge and tea and toast. The Northern Irish drivers sat at their round table. No one had had much sleep so it was quieter than it had been the night before. Each of the truckers sat with two or three extra cups of tea at their place. The extras were to carry down to their lorries. We were all down on the vehicle deck by 5.30. The freight drivers lined up their cups on their dashboards. The boat decanted us into Dublin Harbour at 6 o’clock on Sunday morning. Driving through the city has never been so easy.

And we were back at home in Ballybeg before 9, even after a stop in Cahir to buy milk and a few staples.

A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire

A visit to my forgotten one-word poem (with a title of any length, as the prescription says, but this one is fixed for its subject and purpose), just outside the village of Skellingthorpe west and a bit north of Lincoln. It sits beside a long-distance cycle trial, in this section from Newark to Lincoln. It was a delight to see it renovated, re-riveted and well maintained after all these years, and how it has fallen into the grass cutting regime of the local parish.

The seven slabs of airfield concrete were taken from RAF Swinderby down the road further south, skilfully sawn and transplanted from flat to vertical in 2002. The next year, Erica and I glued on the orange anodised aluminium letters with the fiercest epoxy and a contraption that allowed it to set. But it was not strong enough for the long term, and any lone cyclist with a screwdriver could prise off a ‘p’ as a momento, or ‘poppie’ for their mantelpiece. Fortunately we lost very few, and there were a few spares.

Hugely physical for a poem, you might feel, but I always see it as my bit of Richard Serra, and maybe the true sensation of the poem is unchanged in its meaning by any of this?

Will I See You Out?

9 July Tuesday

Another batch of elderflower cordial has been bottled. This is the first time I have made several small batches over a few weeks. Ordinarily, I make one big batch. This year it was about gathering the blooms at the right moment and in bright sunshine. The weather was against me and then blossoms were often too high for me to reach. I hope I do not do it this way again. It is just as much work to make a small batch twice as it is to make a big batch once.

8 July Monday

Cars drive too quickly through the village. Tractors and farm machinery always go too fast, especially when they are getting in the silage which is what they are doing now. The days are not long enough for the work that must be done and there is always the possible threat of rain which will ruin the Getting In. The narrow roads are treacherous with speeding equipment. If there are several other vehicles pulled in or a delivery truck parked when one is ready to leave the shop in a car, it is not easy to see around them. This is a problem at any time of the year. It is worse with speeding tractors on the move.  It is nearly impossible to see if something is coming from either direction. A person walking out of the shop or arriving and getting out of their own car will offer to check the road for the person attempting to depart. He or she will say “Will I see you out?” Or “I’ll see you out then.” That means they will stand in the road and look both ways and signal or shout when it is safe to back out. It is the polite thing to do and it is much appreciated. We all do it for one another.

7 July Sunday

I have been picking gooseberries. It feels like I have been picking gooseberries forever. The bushes just keep on producing. Every afternoon I sit on my box and I pick and pick and I pick and then I toss bags full of berries into the freezer. I am in competition with the birds. Often I am picking from one side of a bush while a bird is eating away on the other side of the bush. This is a battle and I am determined to win. I do not mind the birds having a good feed of fruit. I just want to be certain that I get more than they do. The thorns are sharp and painful. It feels like they are ripping me to shreds but at the same time, they never seem to pierce my skin. There is no blood but there is a bit of shouting and cursing as I get stabbed again and again. I think there are some kinds of gooseberries that have no thorns. Maybe these are new breeds. Even if thorn-less gooseberries exist, I am not going to plant any of them.  I already have too many gooseberry bushes. Today I have decided that I am finished with the picking. Whatever remains on the bushes is all for the birds.

6 July Saturday

Maureen got out of the car. She has been instructed to stand still for a moment so that she does not get dizzy by moving too quickly. Her friend stood close by. She was there to give Maureen an arm if needed, just until she got her balance.  Her friend squealed, “OhMyGod! Your glasses are filthy! It looks like you cleaned them with Mashed Potatoes!”

5 July Friday

I see Marie at least once a week. I do not know her well. I do not know her family or where she lives or anything like that. She used to work in the shop and then she trained to work at the Day Care Center. The pay is much better there and she loves working with the children. She is a cheerful person. We always greet one another and she always calls me Sally. I used to correct her and tell her my proper name, but I no longer bother. I just return her greeting and chat about whatever there is to be chatted about.

4 July Thursday

There are a lot of bees around the edge of the roof of the barn. They are just over the door. They have been there for several weeks now. We now try to enter and leave the barn from the opposite direction, but it does not really make much difference because the swarm is still just above and to the left of the door. We cannot ignore them but we can move quickly and quietly past them. It is a pity they did not choose to make a hive on the back side of the barn. They would have had more privacy and we would not be so aware of them. Their noise is loud. It is a little bit scary to go into the barn and a little bit scary to come out, but really I do not think it matters much. They are busy and they seem to pay us no attention at all. Anyone who sees or hears the bees advises us to get a beekeeper to come and take them away. The hive is well tucked up and into the eaves. I do not think anyone could get up and get them out without killing the lot. Since the bee population is in short supply all over the world, we feel it is best if we leave this community to just keep doing exactly what they are doing.

 

3 July Wednesday

The barley looks fine in the fields on both sides of the track. It moves constantly and gently with the smallest breeze.

2 July Tuesday

The woman stood in the middle of the road. It is not a busy road. It is a single track road with three houses on it. One of the  houses has been empty for four years. It is an extremely quiet road. The woman stood in the middle of the road watching as two painters were finishing up a bit of detail around her windows. She was admiring her freshly painted house from as far away as she could be which was not really very far at all. I was out for a walk. I do not know this woman except to say hello to. We exchange pleasantries like “It’s a desperate day altogether!” and “A Fine Evening, isn’t it!” But that is as far as we go. That is as far as we have ever gone. She used to have an elderly dog. I spoke to the dog every time I passed the house. He was deaf and blind and did not pay any attention to me.  Today the woman turned to me as if we were in the habit of discussing a great many things. She said, “It is looking well, isn’t it?” It was both a statement and a question. I replied, “Yes, indeed it does look well.” She nodded and said “Yes. I think it is looking well. I am happy how well it is looking.” If I had not seen the painters there I would not have known that the house had been painted because it was exactly the same colour as it was before it was painted.

Any Stick You Could Buy In A Store

1 July Monday

Anthony has a bucket near the doorway of his premises. There is a thick piece of timber on the bucket to make it more comfortable. Anyone waiting to have a tyre repaired is welcome to take a sit-down on the bucket. Or someone who is walking by can take a seat and chat even if they are not having a tyre repaired or replaced. Today, I see that Anthony has added a red cushion.

 

30 June Sunday

I was walking up near Middlequarter and thought to take the path that drops down to the Holy Well. It was a bad idea as everything was heavily overgrown and I was wearing shorts. There were too many nettles to make such a walk pleasant or even possible, so I gave up. I was sorry as I have not been down there for a long time. There is not much to see. I am never certain how and why one little spring gets called a Holy Well and another does not. There are hundreds of Holy Wells around the country. Not all of them are signposted. Some are just known to be where they are by the people who know. Usually the water is believed to have curative powers. Sometimes a particular saint used a well and that made it holy. I must ask around for the story of this well, which does not look like a well at all. It is just a slab of stone with a trickle of water coming out beneath it. And at this time of year it is probably completely choked out with weeds and nettles.

 

29 June Saturday

We had just finished lunch when there was a tiny tap on the door. It was Tommie. He was returning the plate I had taken to him last week. The plate had been full of lemon cake and strawberries. Now it was empty and washed.  I was preparing strawberries to eat with cream just as he knocked so I offered him some. Tommie loves fruit. He loves all fruit but he especially loves summer berries. He refused a cup of tea but said yes to the fruit.  He sat down and we all three ate big bowls of fresh berries. Then we talked. Or Tommie talked. He told us stories of Real Life People. He told about a woman who could tell a lie and he said that whatever she said and whatever way she said it, it looked better than the truth. As he talked he swung his walking stick up above him and around in the air. He was pleased when we complimented him on the stick. It was a length of ash with the bark stripped off. It was not straight but it was strong. He said he preferred this stick to any stick you could buy in a store.

After an hour and a half, Tommie said he should be going. I walked him out to his motorcar. I was surprised to see that the passenger door was open and I was shocked to see Margaret sitting there. I asked him why he had not brought her into the house. He said it was because he had not meant to stay so long. I spoke to Margaret and said that she should have come inside. She said she was fine where she was, just sitting out and listening to the weather. I guess by weather she meant the little breeze. She is mostly blind and she cannot hear a lot, but she perhaps she was able to hear and see enough to enjoy the light wind and the birdsong. Her face looked terrible. It was black and blue and she had a big bandage on her forehead and another one around her forearm. Her fingers and her hand were all black and blue and swollen. She said she had had another fall. She said “This is just the way things are going, Girl. I recover from hitting the ground just in time to fall again.”

 

28 June Friday

Sharon moved away at least six months ago because the house she had been renting was being put up for sale. It was Mary Corbett’s cottage. Then it was The Murder Cottage. Dessie lived there next and it was still spoken of as The Murder Cottage. When Sharon moved in, she wanted to change the way people referred to her home. Living in a place where someone was savagely killed carries a tough legacy. She searched out a large flat stone and put some sticky vinyl letters on it. She renamed the place The White Cottage. The letters were quite small. The heavily varnished stone was leaned up against a tree so that it could be seen from the road.  We all tried hard to use the new name but The Murder Cottage remains the shorthand way to identify the place. The house has not sold yet. A man comes along and does some small jobs every few weeks to keep it looking tidy. When Sharon left, I thought maybe she had taken her naming stone with her but today I walked past the house and there it was lying flat on the top of the wall with most of its letters missing.

 

27 June Thursday

The fire station in Lismore is not large. I am not even sure that it is even wide enough to have a fire truck inside. There are two yellow firemen’s helmets hanging outside the station. The original plan must have been for them to be used as hanging baskets.  No one planted any flowers in the helmets this year, so there are just a few dead stalks.

 

26 June Wednesday

It was raining hard. Just as I turned to drive into the boreen I saw a young boy pressed against the stone wall. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The sweatshirt was not waterproof. He was dripping wet and his hood was plastered tight to his head with the rain. I recognized him as the son of a neighbour a kilometer or so down the road. I think he is 12, or maybe 13. I stopped to ask if he wanted a lift home. He said no. I saw that he had a hatchet held in his hand. Maybe it was a hatchet or maybe it was an ax. It  was pressed close down along his leg. It might have been that he was trying to hide it from me. Or it might have been that he was trying to keep it from getting wetter. After I got home I mentioned him to Simon. He said the boy had been up and down past the house several times in the rain. Always carrying his hatchet. I have spent the rest of the day wondering if we should be worrying about this lad marching around with a hatchet.

Star / Steer

 

In 2015 in Vienna I found a reprinting of the classic poem-print Star / Steer, which Stuart Mills and I had issued from Tarasque Press, Nottingham in 1966. The original was beautifully screenprinted on MG poster paper. It avoided the pitfall of the numbered and editioned fine-art print, and was the epitome of Finlay’s overtly available poster-poem. Suddenly, I was shown a fine print, done on fancy paper in a very limited edition of 30 copies, and selling for some €1200. The positioning of the poem was bizarre to say the least, so high on the format. I was informed that a notebook had been discovered in which Ian Finlay had said he wanted the print to be placed behind a toy boat?

It doesn’t make sense, given the purity of the initial print, with all its integrity.  I must write an essay on MG poster paper, its glazed front surface to take the image that rain can run off, and its back-side, the toothy rough surface that can hold the adhesive to stick to a wall! Pure affiche!

 

 

Ian Gardner 1944-2019

Ian Gardner, the eminent watercolourist, has died in his home town of Lancaster at the age of 75. He attended Lancaster School of Art, before post-graduate studies at Nottingham School of Art under David Measures and David Willetts. His work developed through the flatness of America Minimalist painting, which he then applied to printmaking, and screenprinting in particular. Eventually discovered an equivalent reductive flatness of imagery in the watercolours of John Sell Cotman and other essentially English painters in the medium.

The collaborative work he did with Tarasque Press in Nottingham with Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills led him from the visual to the literary and back again, and culminated in the group exhibition ‘Metaphor and Motif’ in 1972 which travelled widely in Britain and Northern Ireland. He worked with the American poet Jonathan Williams, who lived in Dentdale, Cumbria to produce ‘Pairidaeza’, a portfolio of images of topiaries from the nearby Levens Hall in Kendal. These were to become archetypes of his reduction of watercolour to simple forms. : his work was to redeem the medium from the folly of assumed amateurism, and imbue it with new possibility.

He taught in many places, mostly in printmaking at Bradford School of Art, where he spawned a school around him, of flat watercolour and print landscapes, with artists like Karl Torok, and others who became the New Arcadians, with the historical input of Patrick Eyres. He  once hired a bus to take his excited students to the birthplace of Frederic Delius, the composer. The assembled company boarded the bus early one morning. It drove round the corner, where they were told to get off. They had arrived at the Delius Brothers Garage in the middle of Bradford!

At the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois in the mid-West, where he taught from 1987-88, he painted the endless landscape on inch strips of paper one yard long, and mailed them home in 35mm film canisters.

He became a constant collaborator of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press in Lanarkshire during the early nineteen eighties and produced some of his most developed collaborations on print, book, and card projects with the poet. Perhaps most enduring are the sectional watercolours for A Walled Garden: A History of the Spandau Garden in the Time of the Architect Albert Speer, the emblem book Finlay devised from his correspondence with Speer about his own rubble garden at Spandau, in the late nineteen seventies.

                                                     Ian receiving the certificate for first-prize

                                                    for the Best Regional Mantelpiece Display,

                                                                2018. photo Alistair Peebles

 

Back in Lancaster, his later work took on the celebration of domesticity, his allotment garden and its produce, the kitchen plants where some of the imagery had begun. It was well short of the aspirations and pretensions of contemporaneity. The notion of the immediacy of publishing stayed with him all his life, and even after serious illness, the ‘At a Stroke’ series of cards and printed ephemera continued to the end, running to an accumulation of twenty plus items. He could be found in the Sun Hotel, hanging a few pictures in a side room, and attending to his correspondence and sending out cards at his regular table.

 

Ailsa Craig. 1983

Going to Bed in the Bright

25 June Monday

A man in a tractor dumped a big pile of stuff to the side of the storage shed on Mason’s land. It looked like lime. When his trailer was empty, he climbed down from the cab and put a delivery note bill under a stone. I was walking up the track towards him. He waved and shouted across the field , “If you see your man tell him the bill is right there. But no worry. He’ll find it or he won’t!”

 

24 June Sunday

To me, it is a pie. Here it is called a tart: top crust, bottom crust and a layer of fruit in between. I find there is always too much pastry for the skimpy amount of fruit inside. The fresh tart in the shop had a large circle cut out of the top crust. The piece of crust which had been cut out was laid onto the top of the tart, just beside the hole, so that the hole was both absent and present. It was still attached to the tart and had been baked right along with the rest.

23 June Sunday

The cows in the lower meadow began bellowing sometime after midnight. They woke me up. I lay in the dark and listened. I wondered what had set them off. There was moaning and mooing. Screaming. Lowing. Roaring. I do not know what got them going. Hunger? Separation? Distress? Maybe a fox startled one of them.  After about twenty minutes they were quiet again. I went back to sleep.

22 June Saturday

The talk at the Farmers Market this morning was all about the dead goose. By current count, 41 geese live in the river with their nests up on the banking of the castle. They are fed a lot of snacks by tourists and given a more healthy regular diet by locals. They have no reason to leave the area. Last week one of the geese was walking across the car park when he was hit by a car and killed. The car drove away without stopping. The murdered goose was named Bruce. I did not know any of the geese had names. This makes me wonder if perhaps they all have names? Apparently a young girl gave Bruce his name but how did she recognise him in the crowd? They all look very similar to me.

21 June Friday. Solstice. The Longest Day

At this time of year there is not much night. Today is the longest day. The sun rose 4.56. It will set at 21.56. The elderly woman in the shop complained that these long hours of daylight depress her. She feels that seven hours of darkness is not enough. She finds it a sad and difficult time because she fears Going To Bed in the Bright. She knows that she is not the only one.

20 June Thursday

A young man boarded the bus with us at the airport. He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers. It was a showy and extravagant bouquet in a white cellophane paper. The paper was like an enormous upside-down white skirt. I do not know where he bought such a bouquet. I do not think there are flowers on sale anywhere at the airport. I think this man must have bought the bouquet somewhere else. He must have arrived at the airport with the flowers but it was not to give the flowers to someone just off a plane from somewhere because he had no one with him. He just had the flowers. Now he was boarding the bus and taking the flowers somewhere else. The entire bus smelled of his bouquet. It was a bit much. There were enormous lilies and something else with a strong smell. The man wedged his bouquet high up into a crack between the two seats in front of him so he could enjoy the journey and have his hands free while the flowers were safe from any crushing and damage.

Before leaving Dublin we made a stop at the bus station. Two people heavily laden with plastic carrier bags stuffed full of things got on the bus. A terrible smell arrived with them. Suddenly the flower fumes that had seemed overwhelming during the journey from the airport to the station seemed not so bad. There would be at least two hours between leaving the Bus Aras and the first stop. No one would be able to get off the bus. This was a daunting prospect. I wondered if I would be able to stand it. A older woman leaned across the aisle towards me and she sort of cooed: “Oh the Poor Poor Misfortunates.” Then she sighed heavily and went back to her book.

Traffic was bad and the bus was slow. The two hour journey took three hours. I was sitting near the front of the bus. The bouquet was propped up in its position of safety in the center of the bus. The Poor Misfortunates sat all the way in the back of the bus. I suppose I was lucky in a way. From where I sat, the smells cancelled each other out and I was far enough away to able to forget about them, at least for some of the time.

A Slender Horizon of Light

Bill Culbert’s strategy for working developed from and through the painting of his early years to the late nineteen-fifties. His post-cubist painting then turns towards construction, and becomes almost serial. By the mid-sixties, this constructive axis of the work could almost be confused with some aspects of kineticism and the Groupe Recherche d’Art Visuel in France. His kinetic-field and camera-obscura pieces, the more pure object-of-light pieces were made at this time, and  his Cubic Projections of 1968 has indeed been much imitated.  But the work was always more questioning, and with revelatory humour, than merely perceptual. Perhaps this led to the more ready-made and bricolage works – the suitcases, the  doors, windscreens, headlights and parts of the 2CV, the plastics, the lampshades, the refractions of wine. His assembly of lamps, tables, chairs, domestic objects, picked from the refuse tips of the Luberon valley were put to work in the cluster of rebuilt houses and studios in the village of Croagnes, using and making available light and light available.Through all the work runs the distilled optimism of the modernist, the structured enquiry of his entire project.

 

The intruded light tube, the fluorescent strip in various sizes and combinations is one of the parts of his work. Light tubes have been imposed on large photographic installations, as in Weather 1988. They have been installed from wall to floor and floor to wall and through furniture, even imposed on Alvar Aalto’s small table in Table Lamp II 1982. They were thrust through the windows of a full scale model of the Serpentine Gallery windows in An Explanation of Light 1984. In floor pieces such as Flat Light House from 2008, or Flotsam 1992, or the seemingly randomised Spacific Plastics of 2001, in Pacific Flotsam of 2007, the intruded light tubes irradiate a seemingly dishevelled scattering of dicarded plastic containers to form an enormous glow of coloured light. Culbert always reminds us of the pleasure of finding dicardable materials for re-use. The window frame, the casement of light, has also often figured in the work. It has gone as far as the intimated flat-pack of Flat Light House from 2008. Besides their resource as parts of works, the windscreens and panels from Citroen 2CV cars have been used by Culbert as more domestic shields and tables, as they are used in the localities of rural France as canopies over porches and doors.

 

We are witnessing the last days of the incandescent light bulb, to be replaced by more energy-efficient forms. Bill Culbert celebrates this with an editioned piece in the form of The Last Incandescent Light Bulb, where a clear light bulb is used as the stopper of a glass decanter, a vessel often seen in the Culbert household. Its image was first used as a photographic work  Decanter from 1985.

 

There have always been the photographic works at a parallel to the objects and installations. There is always a duality in the photographic works, an ambiguity that posits the question of what is the actual work: the subject of the photograph or the photograph itself, the issues of choice of black and white and colour. An early compilation of such black and white pieces was called Extant Works and Sources, 1984. Perhaps more importantly, they all have a necessary myopia of focus, a re-iteration of the themes of the work, the lampshade armatures at sunset, the empty abats-jours.

 

The work is also the drawing of built pieces and pieces to be built, often a working inventory, the instructions for making them. The drawings were, at times, also pure form, with the swift and spare open line begun in his earliest work, enhanced by his trusted Parker 51 Fountain Pen, designed by Moholy-Nagy.

 

There is always wine, and the consequence of wine poured into a glass, its reverse perspective, its shadow, the lucidity of it. ‘Small Glass, Pouring Light’, 1983 is the seminal work, now permanently installed in the Chateau d’ Oiron in the Poitou region of western France. Bistro glasses of a particular refractive index, filled with red wine, re-form the light bulbs above them onto the table – a work of mysterious calm, generously and silently inviting the viewer to participate in the refreshment of the work.

 

The work of Bill Culbert is of a different legacy to the reassembly of Duchamp and Schwitters. There is always an affirmation of the balance between art and living, the fuss-less ‘bien-fait’ of Creation Permanente of Robert Fillou, a celebration of quotidian ordinariness. In his oeuvre there is enormous width and range, far more so than that presumed for some acclaimed artists working in France and Britain in a most overblown time. He is one of very few really radical figures who did not settle for manufacture, brand and production – a distinct virtue of his partial neglect.

2009-2019

Leonard McComb RA

Leonard McComb began as a sculptor and moved to painting, flecking his large watercolours from a sable brush with a trail of colour. There is even one made up of, I believe, 91 A1 sheets of paper, of the cliff outside the house of his mother in North Wales. Of remaining sculptures, there are not many. But the figure of Young Man Standing  has a profound mystery to the work, a compacted energy about to burst. It is there in its the 7/8ths scale and proportion. His presence follows you round the room in which you encounter him .

I remember the evenings in his Brixton house and studio in the late nineteen seventies, when his then wife Barbara, equally mysterious, wafer-thin from not eating properly, often prepared a dinner overwhelmed by coriander, which she did not and could not taste. I think she was really his model, his muse, and there are many portraits of her or females exceedingly like her. Len was always immaculately dressed in a suit and white shirt, sometimes open at the neck, but more likely with a cravat loosely tied, or even a dark overcoat worn indoors, and supple and worn Oxford shoes. It seemed to me that it was the tradition of the Slade School to be so immaculately dressed, and I could only contrast it with the casualness of most of the artists I knew. I guess all that formality showed in the mannerism of their paintings, but in Len’s case it was never quite the eccentricity of a Stanley Spencer and his loaded pram. Len was somehow always more upright.

He had destroyed much of his early work on a fire in the back-garden of his Brixton house. A man of firm and even entrenched prejudice, of the obduracy of a Balthus. It is said that he tried to persuade Peter Blake not to include so-called Conceptual Art in a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, saying that there were enough artists genuinely responding to Nature for it to be unnecessary for a glass of water to represent an oak tree.

 

 

 

Archives