Monday, 30 January 2017

Littering - a rant. And George Shaw.

One road. 

One walk. 

One day.

And I want to cry.

How hard is it to keep rubbish in your car? 

Clearly, the answer is quite hard. 

Picture the litter-lout or litter-bug. Why in the UK we (or is it just me?) use lout, which is male and defined as a man or boy who acts boorishly or with aggression and without consideration towards others, is a puzzle, because I suspect littering is not an entirely male habit. Anyway, back to the lout who, in his (or her. But I will use his and let you assume his or her) first act of loutish behaviour, broke the law eating while driving. And probably thought he was driving safely - it didn't cross his mind that eating may have been, perhaps, a little distracting. Why would it have been? The wrapper unwrapped itself, of course! The ring-pull tugged and folded itself against the can; the crisp packet yawned itself open and the dozens of probiotic drink bottles (yes!!) pulled their own foil caps off. So there was nothing to distract him during the driving-with-one-hand-on-the-wheel eating process. But lest the conscience perched on my shoulder pecks a hole in my head, I will move on quickly. What the lout did find distracting was the litter lying about inside his car. Or was it clamouring at the windows to be released? Perhaps the lout was performing a charitable act under the banner - Freedom for Wrappers! Perhaps he was aiding the tortured (crumpled), victimised (torn), discarded (... discarded!) bits of paper and plastic and glass and foil and aluminium to escape from their temporary detention centre (the lout's car). How kind!

Do litter-louts believe that if litter can't be seen, it doesn't exist?


It does. I can see it!

Cans and bottles

And crisp packets

Numerous probiotic drink bottles

And coffee cups

All this litter and littering reminds me of George Shaw's atmospheric and thoughtful paintings, currently on tour following their exhibition at the National Gallery (nationalgallery/nationwide-tour): he saw litter in woodlands and took it as an allegory to hint at ideas of faith and frailty and damage. Striking though his paintings were, seeing litter here in my environment makes me seethe. There is something pitiful and poetic in some of these photographs but my visceral response is rage. There is no motivation behind littering other than absolute laziness. To suggest that the litter-lout is a slothful human being is an insult to sloths. His laziness is far worse than that of the harmless sloth. Tinged with an utter disregard for nature, the litter-lout shames the rest of us who care what our countryside looks like. He is interested in one thing only and in the pristine perfection of its surrounding airspace. He doesn't care a fig about the rest of us. He probably doesn't know what a fig is. Nor how it is grown. The only figs he has seen are the ones squeezed into biscuity rolls, cocooned inside the sort of wrappers that he throws away.

I bet he leaves the engine running when he's waiting to collect someone.

Huh! Engines running; fossil fuels; pollution and climate change ... is that where this procrasti-rant is going?

... No, not yet; I need to gather my facts ... Facts! ... Huh! How do we know which facts to believe? When is a fact not a fact? In the world of making-things-up-as-you-go-along-and-saying-something-different-the-next-day and lying-about-irrefutible-statistics and taking-an-opposing-view-to-the-old-adage-that-a-photo-never-lies and gagging-anyone-who-disagrees-with-you, it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
So no, not yet - climate change is for another day. Another rant. Though I may just drop this in for now: earth-day-2017

Walking the dogs is meant to be about this

Not this

And - changing the subject - don't get me started on this

I'm off to write and edit and weep for the trees. Flailing is saved for another rant. On another another day.

Perhaps, I should be grateful that we have trees left to flail 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Light and artistic storytelling. And a sheep and a crow. And a wee bit of politics at the very end.

What do I remember of the year we spent in Australia?

The heat; the long drives; long-striding lightning dancing across distant, dry plains; the gorillas at Melbourne zoo; an abundance of unfamiliar fruit and vegetables; kangaroo (and roo-burgers); trams; crisp slithers of eucalyptus leaves underfoot on forest trails; a little girl who didn't like sand between her toes; vertiginous peaks and plummeting shadows and cliffs where the earth had broken and fissured in the Blue Mountains; the Twelve Apostles of the Southern Ocean; spiders (lots of spiders); a relaxed cafe culture; Italian food on Lygon Street; earthy browns and creamy dots of aboriginal paintings; verandahs; snakes; public parks; wind, buffeting and forcing dry grit into your face round every pavement corner; and a distant city that sat on the palm of my hand - yes to all of those. But the sharpest memory is of the light: a fierce light, forcing a wash of white over everything burning in its glare. An unforgiving light throwing definition across all in its path whether that all wants definition or not. A light that is hard to reproduce in photography. But not - apparently - in paintings.

I visit art galleries whenever I can. Paintings capture a certain something that we miss in the normal bustle of our lives. A glance; a colour; the position of a hand; a glint in a mischievous eye; someone hiding in a shadow; a window open and a light glowing within. Art galleries take us out of ourselves; they are quiet, reflective places, often filling grand halls within vast imposing, historically rich buildings. Enter a gallery and you instantly adopt the role of amateur art critic. You take your own life experiences to the patch of ground before each picture and if you allow it, your appreciation of the picture becomes a visceral thing. Paintings make you smile, or laugh, or cry, or wince, or shake your head, or roll your eyes, or pucker your lips or look away in anger or embarrassment. Go to a gallery with someone and you'll notice things that each other missed, you'll disagree on some things and agree on others and you'll learn that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I can no more make a friend like a piece of modern art than I can convert them to drinking my choice of herbal teas, or black coffee, or eating marmite. 

When planning a gallery visit, one word guaranteed to get me diary-plotting is Impressionism.

Think Europe - late 1800s - growing industrialisation - an undercurrent of revolution - increased opportunity for travel and trade - a rapidly expanding world and all the intellectual excitement of new political movements and much easier access to learning. It was a time of great change and experimentation which artists like Cezanne, Monet, Pissaro and van Gogh took full advantage of. They adopted a technique of painting en plein air using naturalistic colours reproducing those they saw in the scenery around them: greens and blues and browns and yellows thrown onto canvases depicting the fields and trees and hills and villages of rural France.

But what has any of this got to do with light and storytelling? Impressionism started in Europe but I started this blog in Australia.

The National Gallery in London has an Australia's Impressionists exhibition and I think I have found a new favourite to add to my growing list of favourite artists - Arthur Streeton. He like many others painted at a time when impressionism was gifting artists a freedom to paint what they saw. And he clearly saw the light that I remember from my time down under. I'll use words to show you what I mean. Which may or may not work ... take three Streeton paintings -

In Golden Summer, Streeton places a small boy in the right foreground with some sheep; a farmhouse is in the near distance (I am calling it a farmhouse because that is my interpretation - I see a pale, wedge-shaped building and my mind fills in the wooden walls, the decking and the corrugated metal roof. Closer inspection now reveals two rooflines - perhaps a small home and a large barn, but there are trees and the land rises, partially obscuring the 'farm's' footprint, so I am seeing only a little of the full steading and reading more than a little into what I see). Between the boy and the dwelling is a lone figure, perhaps the boy's father or an older brother. The man watches the boy who watches the sheep while we watch the whole scene. And in the very near foreground at the foot of the painting, a black and white crow is trying to outstare a stray sheep, as though challenging the sheep to move first. So far Streeton's painting is all about watching. It is also about light. Beyond the tableau of boy and sheep, the land stretches away into the very distant distance - grey-blue mountains on the horizon, and further away, an almost concealed moon. Casting a swathe from left to right across the whole painting are fields so vibrantly yellow that at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking the painting unfinished. But the detail is obscured by the light which in turn is obscured in places by long shadows of spindly trees. All this is a very realistic portrayal of the searing Australian light I remember, as the human eye would not be able to look unshaded at that scene and would not be able to pick out any detail. The boy is wearing a hat and stands in the shade with his sheep.

Remember the crow and the sheep - I think Streeton had a sense of humour. In Blue Pacific, the scene is of cliffs near Sydney, people at a viewpoint and the magnificent sapphire blue of the ocean beyond. A child, in a pink dress, sits on the ground, with an adult at her side; perhaps a frustrated governess encouraging her to stand. The viewer's eye is drawn to the distance and the gathered people on the cliff-top but look a little longer and discover a spade and what looks like a banana skin and a toy boat in the foreground - what was Streeton saying with this little collection: an upset/tired/stubborn child, unwilling or too young to understand the view; her reluctantly abandoned toys; dreams of escape and adventures on the ocean; a childhood constrained and tugged at by adult whims? We have all dragged children to museums and noticed that they find the cafeteria menu and the puddles in the carpark far more interesting than any of the exhibits. So (I think) it is with the little girl being asked to appreciate the view. Again the light plays a part, illuminating the cliff beyond the sitting child and the white sails of her boat, drawing the viewer in and evoking memories of the sea.

Finally, in Ariadne, a woman in a long white dress stands on a tropical beach. The colours are strong and light shimmers off her dress, the crest of breaking waves, the white sand and the sails of a yacht, nearing a distant headland. Imagine strong blues, greens and yellows. Very bright. Very travel company poster. Very postcard. Very reproducible. Hmmm .... But better than all of those - Streeton painted Ariadne in oil, on wood. He surrounded this small painting with an inch of gold rim and edged it with several inches of deep plain roughly-grained dark wood. Suddenly, the picture is thrown into a sharpness that is almost like cupping your eyes and looking into a sea-side viewer. Add to that the story - this is the Ariadne abandoned by her lover Theseus who is sailing away. The brilliant sharp light of the Australian beach adds to the harsh poignancy of her sorry predicament - she fell asleep in the arms of her lover but woke to find him gone. The story is of an abandoned mother who was later rescued by Dionysos who so loved her that he turned her crown to stars and set them in a ring in the night sky. The Coronna constellation reminds us that all woman are deserving of love - whatever their background, whatever their colour, whatever their politics or beliefs, whatever their wealth or ethnicity or sexual leaning, and whatever their past misdemeanours. Love and respect women. And call them equal to men. Dionysos made his Ariadne a God, like him. Women make the world. We are mothers, sisters and wives. Without us men could not exist. Certain leaders need to remember this.

I love it when paintings tell stories!