Vast works of other ages encumber

Stse is an almost-island, separated from the mainland of the great south continent by marshes and tidal bogs, where millions of wading birds gather to mate and nest.  Ruins of an enormous bridge are visible on the landward side, and another half-sunk fragment of ruin is the basis of the town’s pier and breakwater. Vast works of other ages encumber all Hain, and are no more and no less venerable or interesting to the Hainish than the rest of the landscape.

Ursula K le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness, Gollancz 1995.

Le Guin’s galaxy was long ago colonised by humans from Hain.  Indeed this is so buried in history’s layers that humanity’s first origins are forgotten, and people on Earth believe themselves aliens.  After that great expansion and genetic manipulations by the ancestral Hainish, peoples in each system developed in isolation for a thousand millenia.  Time dilation during near-light-speed travel and cold-sleep means that your left-behind children and grandchildren grow old and die before you make your new start on another planet.  In the last few thousand years, which might be only a few lifetimes for space-farers, the Hains have sought to bring all humanity back into a loose community called the Ekumen.

This positioned le Guin as a galactic social anthropologist.  The underlying framework for each story is that of Ekumen observers exploring and falling foul of variations of kinship, politics, religion and economics.  Her most recurring themes are variations on gender and sex, and the power relationships which spring from these.  The Left Hand of Darkness, her novel written nearly fifty years ago, to me seems fresh and challenging in its deconstruction of our assumptions about humanity, encapsulated in the sentence “The king was pregnant”.  The four novellas which comprise Four Ways to Forgiveness offer perhaps a more conventional take on sexuality, shockingly so, for it is tied into power dynamics, slavery, rape and oppression.  It took me a second reading to confirm that her gentle writing style was, in each narrative, capturing a love-story.

The throw-away description of the enormous bridge, the ancient vast ruin present but ignored, gives to me the feel of le Guin’s universe.

I drew this listening to the hypnotic rhythms of Canto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt) weaving a tapestry of sound from four pianos.

Repurposing III

2015-11-21 July 2014 Pettico Wick 2

Thanks for the comments on the previous version.

In response I abandoned any attempt to reference the photograph I shot on the same day as this painting was first sketched out.  I kept changes to a minimum: dropping the skyline to give more explanation to the background coastal hills, smoothing out some texture  in the bottom left corner to link better the two halves of the image, scouring back some of the intense white of the nearest sea to reveal colours beneath and selectively glazing the foreground in acrylic to give more shape to the overgrown rock surface and reduce the brightness of the whites.

I now call this a finished piece.

Re-purposing

2014-07-14 Pettico Wick

This was painted in July 2014.  I sat on the bluff of St Abbs Head looking down on the series of inlets from the sea forming Pettico Wick.  I worked on board with charcoal and pastel, lifting and scrambling the fragments with very wet sepia ink and gouache.  Despite all my contrivance, the board whipped in the wind, striking me paint-side on my face, and flew to land paint-side down in the damp grass.  I scoured into it with hard eraser and knife, revealing the under-surface to define the crags.  It dried to muted muddied tones in the boot of the car, and has languished in a box for the last year.

2015-10 St Abbs head July 2014 (4)

Last weekend, I pulled it out again and wondered how to develop it – to experiment with its surface but keep something of the chaos of its making.  I worked back in with conte crayon to refresh the colours and refloated the pigment in water and inks.  I sought to control the wet mix by layering it with netting, restraining the fluid from covering the central highlight and holding the puddles to evaporate on the image rather than pour over the side.

2015-10 St Abbs head July 2014 (3)

I have painted in a low sky, giving definition to the distant coast and a sense of scale to the whole piece.  Here it is photographed by lamp and by day light.

2015-10 St Abbs head July 2014 (2)

It took a week to dry out and I am ready to work into it again.  I think I will next use knife and sandpaper to regain some of the earlier layer, particularly in the rocks forming the coastline.  Then I will paint successive dilute acrylic glazes over the grass and heather to bring some coherence to the higher land.

How would you develop this?  I would welcome advice and suggestions.

 

Staple Rock

At St Abbs Head, the rounded cliff tops fall away into grass-covered, steep inclines, which drop straight down to the rock-strewn sea.  Looking from on high, it appears that the sharp blade of Staple Rock is suspended over the waves, hanging there ready to drop and cut the sea in half.  A scramble down the scree allows access to a lower platform.  From this view point, the triangular stack is firmly rooted, its base visible through the water.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (1)

I covered board with charcoal and clawed back the tones and shapes first with my fingers and then with water and finally with layers of white acrylic.  I poured sepia calligraphic ink onto the central mass, squirted it from the water bottle and rocked the board until the ink settled and dried in the sun.  The darker tones were mixtures of sepia and paynes grey inks or charcoal.  Lastly, I used watercolour over the various tones created by acrylic white and charcoal for the sea and sky, grass and flowers, and the receding stained rocks at the back.

The distant sea was teeming with moving white specks, distant feeding gannets, added with a shake of the brush.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (2)

Here are the preliminary sketches from the same day, made first in ink lines, liberated with water to create the tones, and then in freehand watercolour.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (9)

 

 

Farming Black Swans

This weekend I drove for ten hours.  Unusually I did not listen to the radio.  Instead I wrote a book in my head.  It is called “Farming Black Swans”.

If I write it down, it will be non-fiction, possibly a technical manual if my research bears out the concepts in my head.   However, in essence it is a narrative so might just as well be a novel.  A central character would be a mathematician by trade and spirituality.

20140629 Blacktoft (1)On the way home, I broke my journey.  I spent the morning drawing at Blacktoft Sands, marshland and reed beds where the River Trent empties into the Humber Estuary.

There was one distant swan. It was white.  It is not featured in this watercolour sketch.  Those blobs at the front are indeterminate ducks.

All swans are white.  Discuss.

Complex systems

201406 1 (1)

This weekend, I have been thinking about complex adaptive systems.

Wikipedia tells me that complex adaptive systems contain multiple diverse interacting components and that the system is structured such that it adapts and learns from experience.  At least, it appear to learn.  The system is not conscious or reflective on its experience.  An ecosystem can be seen as a complex adaptive system.

In a cancer, the malignant cells are themselves diverse: some dividing, others resting; some forming a tumour, others infiltrating adjacent tissues, others again invading blood vessels and migrating.  Then there are the array of non-malignant cells: those forming blood vessels; inflammatory cells responding as if this were a healing wound; immune cells perhaps recognising and killing cancer cells, perhaps exciting such killer cells, perhaps damping the immune response.  All these various cells are in communication with each other, sending short range messages by direct contact or chemical signals.  This complex adaptive system is called the immune microenvironment of the cancer.

I am not prone to hyperbole.  Still, I think we* sit on the threshold of a major shift in how cancer can be treated, using new drugs to manipulate the immune microenvironment of cancers.  The drugs are becoming available.  The challenge is to understand the immune microenvironment sufficiently so we use the drugs effectively.

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This piece started with a layer of charcoal, the images driven by recent reading and current music.  I tore into the dampened paper creating highlights and texture.  This was then obscured by layers of gouache and acrylic paint, allowing charcoal and sea salt to disperse slowly, suspended in the very wet washes.   After a week or so looking at it, turning it one way and another, eventually I saw in it a narrative suggesting a complex system.

 

*”we sit on the threshold of a major shift in how cancer can be treated” – by “we” I mean the worldwide cancer community – patients, carers, researchers, clinicians, health care providers, research institutions, industry and those who commission and fund cancer care

Starting to cut

marsh Lane lino test

I have joined the Birmingham Printmakers studio. The first Sunday evening I called in, the shutters had been pulled down over the entrance. On my second attempt last weekend, I actually made it through the door. I was alone. I had had an induction on how to use the presses but could not find the light switch to the main studio. Still, I could work standing up at a bench next to the hot plate in the room with the press.

marsh Lane lino test 02

I had called in to test my first cuts on this reduction lino print. I probably need to lift more white out of the stratified clouds – I might print a version then cut the clouds away and print again.

Next time, I need to have worked out a jig for perfect registration before I start printing the first light grey/blue layer. Any advice welcome.