Words and Art Combined

Earth

Earth © Angela Porter 2011

Watercolours, pen and ink on cartridge paper.  24cm x 18cm.

I completed this picture as a kind of experiment.  A dear friend of mine suggested that instead of filling the curlicues of my current very spiral art with more curlicues and spirals that I should add words instead.  I have lots of ideas of what to do with this, perhaps, eventually.  But this was the first of it’s kind.

I wanted to put together a painting that had words and symbols and images that go with the esoteric element of earth, but the words I chose haven’t quite worked out.  However, I am pleased with the apple/wheat/leaf border and the ivy border too.  I’m also pleased that I left empty space, not because I got fed up of this, but because I felt it was all finished and balanced.

This will be an idea I come back to, that of the four elements I mean.  Words have been important in creating my latest pieces of art.

PF Summer Camp, Late May Bank Holiday Weekend 2011

PF Summer Camp 2011 © Angela Porter 2011Watercolours, metallic watercolours, Zig Art and Graphic pens, Rotring pens with black ink on watercolour paper.  9cm x 18cm.

Last weekend, I gave a talk entitled ‘Death and disposal in the Bronze Age’.  In the talk, I concentrated, it turned out, on how the landscape in which the monuments are set can and other factors such as time of day, season or weather have an effect upon how people experience the site.  I drew on the work of archaeologists such as George Nash and Ann Woodward’s book ‘British Barrows‘ who discuss such things.  I have found it a fascinating, if a little brief study by myself, but I already have books on order for when I have the time to dig deeper into such matters.

I mention this because it may be that the barrows could have acted as ‘mnemonics’ for reciting the history of the clan who were the barrow-wrights.  Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson, in ‘The Folklore of Discworld’ write:

“The landscape is full of stories.”

What I set out to do in this particular painting was to put words in that act as memories of the weekend, especially the ‘bardic circle round the camp fire’ in the evening, where there were songs and stories and friendly banter and chatter.  This is something I have never done, the camp fire thing that is.  I loved it and want to take part in one again.  I may even be able to take my flute and play something, or tell a story; I think the informal and non-judgemental nature of such a gathering would allow me to do this.

I wander off topic here.  The colours and shapes I chose to represent the flow of ideas, talk, music as well as an opening of the mind and an igniting of certain things for me.  I am really quite pleased with how it has turned out, and it was another experiment as I used Zig Art and Graphic Pens to draw the design with; they are water soluble and bled into the watercolour paints.  It has turned out to be a happy accident, as I’m pleased with the colours in places which give an aged feel to the work, kind of like an old, hand coloured etching.  This is how a lot of my work tends to be, but I really want more vibrant colours so that black doesn’t swamp them.

Time

Time 1 © Angela Porter 2011Watercolour, Zig pens and Rotring pens with black ink on cartridge paper.  7.5cm x 15cm.

This was an experiment, again.  I started it last week and left it for a few days to ponder what to do with it.  The colours I had used seemed quite insipid and I wasn’t at all sure where it was going.  The purchase and subsequent playing with the Zig pens a couple of days ago gave me another technique to use in my art, and in this case it’s worked out well, I think.  Things aren’t as irritatingly perfect as my work has been in the past, but I think that adds something to the work.  I like the way the Zig pens add depth and intensity of colour, while being able to be washed out with a damp to wet brush to very subtle shades.  I feel I’m going to love using them in this way!

The adage ‘Time heals all wounds’ is, of course, not entirely true.  There are some wounds that never heal, unless it’s the final journey to whatever awaits us after this earthly existence.  I do think the words are particularly pertinent to me at this point in my personal progress.  I have been having counselling for a number of years now to help me heal the emotional wounds of the past and the damage it has done to my self-image.  It’s a long, slow process it seems.  I often feel guilty for talking so long, to be going round and round in circles, and there have been moments when we almost believed it was time for me to cut loose, then something happens to knock me back a few steps.  As I’ve been told, you can’t heal the damage done over 40-something years overnight, it takes time to undo the learned concepts and to replace them with new ones.  I am getting there, though, even though some days, or weeks, I feel I’m back to where I was.   Art helps me to relax, de-stress to bring joy into my life, and it’s a great re-balancer for me.  I am so grateful I have discovered this gift, and that I have people who encourage me to explore new ways, as I’m still not able to be self-motivating or to find the inspiration that sometimes I lack.

Folklore, a Fall and Storytelling

Yesterday evening, I travelled by train to Merthyr Tydfil where I was giving a talk.  My lil Smartiepants is still poorly; I’m awaiting a call back from my mechanic to get her fixed.  Anyways, on the way out I grabbed ‘The Folklore of Discworld’ by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson and thoroughly enjoyed reading it again during my journey there and back again to Merthyr.

‘Some of the things in this book may well be familiar, and you will say ‘but everybody knows this’.  But the Discworld series, which on many occasions borrows from folklore and mythology, twisting and tangling it on the way …’

And that is what I love about Mr. P – the way the familiar is just twisted enough to fit into somewhere else, with humour and a sense of ridiculousness, and often with quite a deep perception of how things work on our world, and plenty of chuckles along the way.

‘…there are some things we shouldn’t forget, and mostly they add up to where we came from and how we got here and the stories we told ourselves on the way.  But folklore isn’t only about the past.  It grows, flowers and seeds every day, because of our innate desire to control our world by means of satisfying narratives.’

And don’t we live, or re-live, our lives by stories, by narratives?  When we relate to others what we have done, what we have experienced, what ‘they’ said, or share our thoughts and memories we are relating a story.  I know in my day job I often teach in a story-telling kind of way, and I try to tell enjoyable and memorable stories.  I love to hear other peoples’ stories too.  Stories about us will be passed down through the generations, changing subtly with each re-telling, just as folklore always has done.

And folklore and stories have power, more so than the mundane reality of the truth.

‘But there is the truth, and, then again, there is The Truth, in the face of which truth can only shrug and grin.’

People prefer, generally, to believe the fantastic, and to add mystery to something that is ordinary.  And I can relate an example of this in action.

A few years ago, while walking across the old Severn crossing, I fell and hit my temple on the ground.  A silly accident, I was bending over my bicycle to see if I could sort out the gears that had stuck in one place, next thing I know my face had made intimate contact with the tarmac of the path.  This old bridge is bouncy, especially when heavy lorries shudder their way across, and I think two must have crossed near me at the same time and set up an extra big bounce that unsettled my balance.  Once I’d recovered my composure, I could feel my eye swelling and I decided to ride my bike back to my car, load it in and then get home asap, which I did safely..

That afternoon I ended up in A&E having a head x-ray as my eye had swollen shut, I had a wonderful black eye beginning to develop, but the emergency phone advice service insisted I go get my head checked out in case I’d managed to crack my skull.  I hadn’t, but by the next morning I had a black eye that was really black and the bruising extended from my eyebrow to below my cheekbone!  It was an absolute corker!

Monday morning came, no pain, but the eye was even more spectacularly black than the day before.  I had to go to school, and on my arrival the headteacher, chair of governors and other staff were concerned that I shouldn’t be there.  I explained that it looked a LOT worse than it was, that there was only a little bit of pain if I touched my temple ‘just there’ and I had had x-rays and was fine.

When I went to my class to do registration, they were shocked with my appearance and asked what was happened.  I told them the truth – the fall, the trip to A&E.

Did they want to believe it?  No.  One 16 year old lad was convinced I’d been out ‘clubbing’ in Cardiff and had got involved in a fight (me? fighting? no way!!! I’m way to gentle and kind for that … I’m very peace-loving).  I said, no, I don’t ‘do’ night clubs, nor do I fight.  He wouldn’t have it, so I went along with him, making up answers to his questions.

“Who hit you?  A man or a woman?  Did you know them?” he asked.

“A man, over six foot tall and built like a brick out-house, and I didn’t know him,” I replied.

“What did you do?  ”

“I hit him back.  I knocked him out.”

“You knocked him out? Really?  What happened to him.”

“Yes. Really.  He’s still in hospital I think.”

“Wow.  Were the police there?”

“Yes, they were.”

“Did they arrest you?”

“No, they saw that he hit me first and I just pushed back in self-defence.  They let me go.  And he’s not pressing charges as he doesn’t want it known he got knocked out by a woman”.

“Wow.”

By the end of the week, there were all kinds of stories circulating about how I got my black eye.  I’d been ambushed by a pack of ninjas who I’d fought off but one got a lucky kick in at my eye.  I’d got shot by an arrow as I was taking part in a medieval battle re-enactment.  A Viking had caught me in his head as I was axe-fighting with him.

I had told each and every pupil the truth, that I’d fallen and hit my head.  But not one of them wanted to believe the mundane truth.  The wanted The Truth – a story with excitement, mystery, amazing powers or luck or magic.

The first lad accused me, on his last day of secondary school, of lying to him.  I said I never had, wondering what he was on about.  He said I’d never had a fight in a club (duh!).  I reminded him that I had told him the truth, but it was too ordinary for him to want it to believe it to be true.  He’d helped make up The Truth and preferred to believe that.  He accepted that!

So, there lies the power of narrative, or stories, of words … it can be used for entertainment, for fun, for good things.  However, it is used by others for manipulation, deception, to gain power over others and to do bad things.  And it can change, and be changed, depending on the point of view of the storyteller, their cultural background, their own beliefs and morals … and we can change our own stories too, which is an entirely different set of ideas!

We may not be able to change the events of our lives, but we can change how we view them, how they affect us, how we feel about them and our reactions to them.  In doing so we can change our reactions to similar circumstances that we come across now and in the future, so changing our ‘story’.  It’s not easy, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of courage to face these situations, to face our reactions to them, and then to view things in a different way, something I’m learning about in counselling.  It’s not easy as the inertia of The Truth as it applies to such situations is great, and the truth may not be apparent as all we have our our memories, emotional responses that memories can trigger in present/future experiences so that we are no longer bound by our old, negative, automatic thoughts and responses.  It’s not about making everything in the past lovey-dove, it’s about finding a way to deal with life without automatically blaming ourselves for other peoples attitudes, responses, actions.