Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cathedral Stones

One important aspect of my creative process is to look closely at a small section of a thing so that it almost becomes abstract.

When I held my first open studio, showing pictures from the “Images of Earth and Spirit” series, I gave everyone who visited a piece of card with a small square cut out of the centre. I suggested people place the card on any object and look closely at the section that remained visible. That way, the object itself loses its formal identity (eg a piece of wood) and becomes an abstract of colour and texture (the grain).

Interestingly, the person who actually did this – and delighted in it – was a child. (I don’t know what that says about me.) The little girl was running round for ages afterwards placing the piece of card over all sorts of things to see what shapes, colours and textures ‘emerged’.

I do a similar thing when I take photos. I will take a close-up of the surface of water so that it becomes an image of fluidity rather than a picture of a river.

Recently I took some photos of cathedral stones. They were weathered, discoloured and had lichen on them. Close-up they looked like colourful abstracts and had a beauty all of their own. They are pictures of the cathedral though they can not be identified as such.

There’s a similar idea at work in Gestalt therapy. This is a branch of psychotherapy that focuses on the individual's experience in the present moment, rather than the environmental and social contexts in which things take place. It also gets away from the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of the overall situation. (This is obviously a badly simplified explanation).

So, instead of saying “Oh, what a lovely cathedral” and moving on, I aim to focus and look more closely at what is really there. The stone then speaks of solidity, history, purpose – of a natural element, shaped by a person and weathered by nature. The cathedral speaks of God, as does the stone and the lichen.

Thus, it is also possible to see and to know ourselves against the background of our relation to other things.

So I want to look closely at things. To see inside things if possible. To look at a tree and to see the sap – the life force – not just in a material sense, but also in a more mystical sense. The Celts, for instance, saw water not just as H2O (you know what I mean … don’t get clever) but as a mysterious life-giving – and destructive – force of nature. (That’s a part of what I’ve been exploring in my “Walking On Water” series.)

It’s also why I obsessively draw and photograph the same things repeatedly (tree trunks are my current favourite). Drawing is an important artistic discipline because it means I have to LOOK at the thing in front of me. It’s not enough simply to think “Ah, a tree – I know what a tree looks like” and draw a stereotypical tree. The more I look, the more I see. The more closely I look, the more I see the thing for what it really is rather than what I think it is because of my preconditioned response.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


When I visited an historic city I was fascinated by what I saw. Directly opposite the old cathedral there is a building covered in scaffolding and blue netting.

What’s taking place is described a ‘renaissance’. It represents a revival of intellectual and artistic achievement and vigour. The aim is to change the outward face of the city while preserving and enhancing its original character. It involves a programme of major developments that will bring about a re-energising and reshaping whilst remaining loyal to the heritage.

But all you can see is scaffolding and blue netting – which I found quite attractive in itself.

But, of course, it’s only temporary. All the work is hidden behind the façade. The scaffolding is there to provide a support structure for the new work that is taking shape.

How long will it take? Hard to say. It will be revealed in stages.

Funding is obviously a key issue and one that is being made more pressing by the current economic climate.

But there is a determination to change. Not to lose what exists and replace it with something wholly new, but to build on and revitalise what has gone before.

It requires commitment and an on-going investment of resources.

But once you start something like this, there is no going back.

When the scaffolding and blue netting eventually comes down, we’ll see how it looks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Something fishy ...

Blackweir is an ancient weir on the River Taff built in the 19th century to supply water to Cardiff docks. The weir blocked the migratory route for salmon and sea trout, which were already in decline due to pollution.

In the 1980s water quality in the Taff and other local rivers had improved as pollution control measures were introduced. As a result, sea trout and salmon started to re-appear in the river. The obstruction of Blackweir now became an issue so a fish pass was constructed to ensure that fish could progress upstream to spawn for the first time in over 100 years.

Today, there are plenty of salmon, sea trout and eels in both the Taff and the Ely rivers and salmon are spawning successfully in both.

Now, a larger and more effective fish pass is being built to ensure that all species of fish will be able to move freely past Blackweir and that the Taff will fully recover its fish stocks.

That all means something, but I’m not sure what.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Should Have Worn Me Wellies

Today, at Blackweir, the River Taff had burst its banks. The water was up over the path and flowing into the fields. It formed a barrier to my normal route whilst it carved out a new channel for itself.

The rain is still falling and shows no signs of letting up. So the water level continues to rise and a new sense of power and purpose comes to a usually placid river.

Now there’s flowing and flooding. The edges are blurred between land and water.

There’s still a fury in the water where it is constrained, followed by a flow of energy and purpose when it finds its way out. Then comes the calm as it spreads and settles into its new environment.

I, along with another couple, went as far as I could – took some photos - and then turned back. Another man was better prepared – he had his wellies on as he walked his dog through the water. But the man who amused and impressed me most, took off his shoes and socks and strung them round his neck. Then he rolled up his jeans and happily waded through to where he was going.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rocks and Water from the River Taff

Friday, August 15, 2008

The River Is Rising

It’s been raining hard and for a long time.

And now the river is rising. Not yet in full flood – it’s still constrained by the artificial banks designed to keep it in its place – it is nevertheless rolling, churning and crashing with what seems like pent-up anger.

The rain has been falling relentlessly, like it has a job to do.

And now the water level is higher than it has been for a long time.

After the crashing and chaos of the river at the weir, it settles into a stronger and more determined flow – less inclined to flow gently around obstacles in its path. Now it has a greater depth and breadth and needs more room to accommodate it. It’s anxious now to get out of this channel it has been driven into – even though it’s this very channel that is giving it force and focus.

The river seems to know where it’s going and what it needs to do. Soon it will find fresh fields to flood into – places to extend and expand. It will find new channels to explore and carve its own into the land.

And at its end it will join with all the water in all the world and flow into the sea.

Monday, August 11, 2008


This is a sculpture I made some time ago but which I have now sold.

It is made up of plaster-soaked rags on a wire armature and painted white. It’s called ‘Prophet’.

It represents the struggle to rise up out of chaos and entanglements, and to point the way determinedly towards the future.

It’s going to someone who’s had his eye on it for some time and who ‘got it’ without me having to explain it.

I’m glad it’s going to a good home.

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