This painting of starlings has been used as the cover art for the indie/folk album Murmurations. I created random effects with paint drying slowly under cellophane then worked back into this with deeper tones. I had several attempts at depicting this idea. In the version above, the blocks of swaying rushes were formed by tensing the cellophane vertically in the lower section and the murmuration shapes came from pulling the upper part horizontally. I used wax resist on the murmuration to create granularity from beading of subsequent layers of drying paint. This painting is used on the inside cover of the album. In these first attempts, I had tried to paint in each bird individually, though this loses the sense of coordination of the flock. Details from the painting below front the album insert and intersperse the lyrics. I have played Hope’s Starlings to and from work these last few days since singer songwriter Kate Sutherland sent me the albums. This is an all female group, mostly singing unaccompanied or with gentle drum rhythm. The sense of the album is of an ageless female spirituality rooted in the natural world. It dragged out of my memory a similar use of pared down lyrics and minimal accompaniment to reach towards spiritual expression, albeit in a more overtly religious setting.
In an attempt to get back to sleep in the early hours this morning, I plugged the radio into my ear and started by catching up on Friday evening’s satirical comedy. First item linked systematic tax avoidance arranged by high street bank HSBC (Hide Some Bent Cash) with a function for the very rich at which access to government ministers was auctioned (including, strangely, the opportunity to go shoe shopping with the Home Secretary, holder of one of the three great offices of state). Second item explored the effect of the release of the film Fifty Shades of Grey on hardware stores. This was not, as you might think, an increase in sales of gaffer tape and rope, but increased general sales as men suddenly remember all those DIY jobs that just have to be done right away making them really really busy right now.
Comedy was followed by arts (skipping the agricultural soap opera). The reviewer commented that Fifty Shades lacked a plot but the sex scenes were “pretty buff”. She liked the many shots of the leading man’s chest muscles. Still awake, I switched to Sunday morning scheduling, coming in on a sequence of diverse philosophical and literary readings connected by an incomprehensible theme: it is called “Something Understood”. I actually drifted off in the next programme as they explained the ecological relationship between wood mice and field voles in an Oxfordshire woodland, awaking during the sermon of the Daily Service. The preacher took as his theme Fifty Shades of Grey and reflected on his own forty years of marriage. I fell asleep again during the hymn, the beautiful “My Song is Love Unknown“. Were these connected in some way? What was he trying to tell us?
Like many others, we celebrated Valentine’s day by going to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. I enjoyed the sex and related scenes though it is an odd experience to watch these, sitting surrounded by strangers. The reviewer was right, there are no narrative twists or surprises. It is really very simple and highly moral: it describes, step by step, a process by which two people achieve or decline consent for sex. This film comes from the viewpoint of the female gaze. The leading male, the eponymous Grey, is not a character as such, more a cipher of a certain idealised manhood for women (stern, rich, powerful, young, potent, fit, flawed, curable by love) just as Lara Croft or any girl in a James Bond movie are cartoon versions of a certain male idea of femininity. For me, that is what makes this film interesting, since most Western culture seems to be dominated by the male gaze. Still, I could not warm to Grey. I reflected that I have greater feelings of empathy with more human, rounded characterisations of masculinity, say, Gollum or R2D2. I did wonder, also, who Christian Grey had fleeced to become so very rich so quickly, whether he banks in a secret offshore account to avoid tax and to which high ranking elected officials he has direct access.
Oh you crawled out of the sea,
Straight into my arms
Straight into my arms …
(Laura Marling “Alas I cannot swim” Interlude).
Words selected in honour of my daughter’s eighth birthday today.