THE most radical political act today is to grow one's own food and to share that knowledge with others.
Think about it. Our government is run by corporations. Corporations DO NOT want you to be independent and self sufficient. They don't make money that way. They need you to be enslaved to the endless wheel of acquisition and discard. You end your slavery when you begin to grow your own food. to recycle and to live on less. It's fundamental, primal and liberating
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
FRUIT takes up the challenge of elevating the ecological knowledge of consumers and encouraging a way of life that is friendly to the environment. We want consumers to be conscious of the entire life of a product, from production to utilization, and not just what they see in the stores. Consumers must be aware that every phase of a product's life influences the environment and ourselves. F.R.U.I.T wrappers, a website, and a traveling installation are part of an initiative to inform people about alternative food systems and local food movements. While cities are often seen as set aside from nature, we aim to investigate the agriculture which feeds urban dwellers. For Beyond Green, Free Soil will use oranges as a vehicle to explore the complex relationships that make up the worlds Food Systems.
Posted by Paul Clarke at 19:02
Posted by Paul Clarke at 18:52
Posted by Paul Clarke at 16:42
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
I have finished a story ive been writing on and off for a while see below
‘Our work is not only an affirmation - an affirmation of our deepest, instinctive awareness that the very texture of life is dependent more upon organism than upon mechanism. It is also protest.’
I am compelled to report this story just as my friends were compelled to undertake their lifelong work. It is written as a result of many years of reflection and no doubt refinement of the essence of our friendships and our time together. After so many years I pass on my observations by way of recognition of their friendship, and in deference to my own rather futile creative desires that I have finally come to accept are best when charged with the telling of the qualities and capabilities of others. In so doing I endeavour to overcome ego in exchange for exhortation. I do not anticipate anything from you as a reader, save the time it takes to connect with the printed word, and perhaps, in so doing, to connect with the time and the place and more to the point with the people with whom I was privileged to live out my many years.
In the writing of the work I have come to recognize myself, and to identify the qualities in my friends which at the moment of their exposure I was too slow, too unobservant, and too much of this worldly place to be in a position to touch their clarity and vision. More often than not, I was unable to connect at all with what they were trying to do and say, and it was only the result of careful reflection and reviewing of my many notebooks that I have crept towards any insight and understanding of their world. I was the one that drew the conversation back to the mundane, and needlessly stifled the blossoming of an insight with a request for a cigarette or another pint. It is a question for another day to ask whether this practical approach provided them with any real refuge from their struggle.
The passing of time has also etched away many of the details of the days and replaced them with something that resembles more a set of feelings. It may be a thick dollop of ochre, or a cobalt blue, or the smell of pipe tobacco, but in the main these impressions have come to replace the thin line of the special moments when canvas came alive, when rough marble became form. Furthermore, the conversations migrate between faces, I am now less sure of who said what and when. It matters not to me, indeed I think if anything the delineation between three people, close working colleagues inevitably blurs as ideas flow between them. So the work comes to me in unfinished pieces, and it is in such unfinished pieces I therefore report it to you. If you are seeking sense and clarity of their lives, then perhaps it is not the story for you, if you seek an essence, then these episodes may offer some connection into a set of realities which, once upon a time, pushed that thin line to its extreme edge. You will see and hear me as the story unfolds, just as you will observe the comings and goings of others, but more than anything else I hope you will bear witness to our time together, a vibrant, troubled, questioning time that, through the lens of the present, and while it is still visible and familiar I can’t help feeling that it grows ever more faded and distant by the day.
Saturday December 13th 1947
St.Ives. From the top of the hill looking down towards the harbour the little town clings to a scant bit of hillside and pokes a defiant finger to the wild waves of Atlantic ocean. The vast majority of the granite built cottages are limewashed, and even on a dull day like today they serve to brighten the scene and contrast with the dark sea that encloses the extremities of the eye. The bustling harbour serves as a central focus for much of the coming and going of the town. Fishing and crabbing boats are stacked side by side along the unloading wall and are constantly drawing passers by to peer down and check the catch. Fishermen busily attend to the nets, the rope trimming and any routine engine troubles. Whilst the predominant dialect is that of West Cornwall, it is not unusual to hear Breton French spoken by many of the crab fishermen. Take a short walk from the harbour through the narrowest of streets bordered by tiny granite built cottages and you will find yourself on the other side of the town in the flash of a moment, facing out to sea and looking onto Porthmeor sands. Along the beach there are a series of fishing sheds, these are large scale and well built wood and granite structures looming up 30 feet or so from the beach where many of the pilchard fishing catch is processed by a small, resilient gang of women and their fishermen husbands. On the beach there will be children playing and probably a dog running around in the shallows of the water. Further out if you are lucky on a fine day in summer you might spot a dolphin leaping, and if you are not so lucky the seagulls will take the sandwich from your hand. Not today though. It is pretty bleak out there. The sea serves to increase the sense of isolation that this quietly industrious place gives off to the winter sky. Weathered faces observe me as I walk through town, occasional acknowledgement but mostly silent watching. These are hardened people, they scratch a living out of the sea, and a few manage small farms rearing livestock on the hillsides around the town. There is little excess money for frivolities, but, at the same time, there is a satisfaction gained from life in a tight knit community, a place that knows itself and its ways. A little further along the coast are tin mines, the communities that cluster around the mines have been here forever, again they are tough and proud and hard working and poor, making good money for other people who live elsewhere.
By the time you get to St.Ives on the train you know you have undertaken a real journey. It is a long way from anywhere metropolitan, it feels a long way from anywhere metropolitan. And perhaps, just perhaps that is why Ben and Barbara decided that it was to become their home, a place where they could draw, paint, and carve, a place where they could connect with each other and where they could raise a family.
Diary Tuesday December 16th 2008
We live in strange times. Places change, so do circumstances and people, some things seem to evade change. More often than not we fail to see this as we are caught up in our own and in other people’s realities. At a time when the pervading worldview is one of unremitting progress and development, where time itself is simply an inconvenient impediment to ever more consumption, the simple idea of stasis is somehow mistaken for failure and lack of connection. I am considered backward because I do not look forward to a prospect of even more consumerism. Backward because I don’t play to the tune of commerce. Backward because I relish slowness. Backward because I find solace in disconnect, solace in the awkward idea, solace in the unmanaged life.
If we seek alternative truth about reality and we sidestep the mainstream routines of modern daily life it is with relief and pleasant surprise that we see the world can be, and often is stubbornly and perhaps heroically the same, save for some minor superficial shifts. Ancient monuments, older rituals and routines interfere with the shock of the new, warping the reality of the now, slowing time to a crawl. It reassures.
Let me give an example – rocks. There are some huge granite rocks that sit on the top of the hill near Eagles Nest from which you can just catch a peek at the town. They dominate the approach to the crest of the hill, looming above as if they are watching. They look exactly the same to me than they ever have, although Patrick used to comment on how their form mutated in the changing light. These rocks have been here an eternity and are defining features of the landscape, but they are also responsive as plants crawl around them, they nurture and protect from wind and rain, they accommodate the many visitors and then at night they loom menacingly like giants of another time who sleep deeply, darkly.
Light. Now there’s a much better example. Daylight. I have recently been thinking a lot about daylight. I got to wondering if light is as it always was, or if light changes in its intensity over time? Patrick often commented on the intensity of the light in the studio. And I’ve always maintained that there is a timelessness to the quality of the light in Penrith. Holiday-makers coming and going every year or two see a change in the surrounding fields, hedgerows, beaches, coves and shoreline, but living in amongst it all I do not see so easily the gradual process of transformation, we simply live within the change, and it changes very, very slowly. To see this with clarity takes a discerning eye, an eye that has uncoupled from the routine of daily life to engage in a different discussion with time and place.
Friendships are the same. The familiarity of a friend, a closeness where anything can be shared is a quality that develops over time not as a result of anything particular except the passage of time. I’ve seen the flickers of change in the town, my town, in the countryside and in my friends over my lifetime. Now, as I look back and they are gone, their memory continues to evolve and remodel my thoughts, and it is a slow-burn but it is there, playing with ideas, playing with my tapestry of life. Light bears witness to all of these subtle changes. As it is certain that eventually all of our faces begin to wear the badge of time, even Pat and Ben’s, and my faded memory of Barbara, it is as certain that light remains a constant, like a fond embrace etched in the memory it repeats and reminds us of what is always present in a world which is ephemeral. The light seems to cut through the palette of the Cornish seascape and sears its grey-blueness into the eye of the beholder, it is startling, brazen almost. And then there’s that nagging question, does it stay the same, in the same way, all the time, over time?
An afterthought…I suppose that awareness and appreciation of time is also something which comes with the experience of time. Whilst the transition in accumulated years is celebrated culturally through recognition of birth, teen-hood, adulthood and on into old age, it is perhaps the pointed shunt of the death of a parent, trusted friend or partner that raises the spectre of one’s own mortality most bluntly. Forcing us to stop awhile and consider our place. I do so now, but many years after the events, and as such my blurred recollection simply adds another dimension to the sun-faded, wind-etched days of the past.
It was Saturday morning in Porthmear. I watched him as he stood in his studio in the early morning. Daylight streamed through the high roof windows down onto a bare wooden floor. The whitewashed walls of the old pilchard factory enhanced and focused the intensity of the light into white angled beams that drove cathedral like pillars from the roof to the floor. When empty it was a spacious room, with a frame of seven small rain smeared windows overlooking the beach and a huge glass canopy above, which illuminated the entire workshop. But this room was far from empty, it was full of paintings, some stacked and some huge and hanging on the wall racks and some evidently in various stages of drying. It was a room that was also full with colour. The canvas warmly reflected colour into the studio so that each tone seemed to compete for any available space. Despite this cacophony of light and colour it was airy, bright and whilst the room was superficially tidy, with different areas seeming to have things allocated to them, a canvas stack here, a newspaper pile there, the pots of brushes and squashed tubes of oil paint interrupted any real orderliness with their random scattering on the floor and around the various pieces of work in progress. At a small low-standing table, a steaming cup of tea sat in a saucer, its trail of vapour weaving in and out of the smoke coming from a burning cigarette that balanced precariously on the saucers lip. At its side was a copy of the London Review, and a copy of the Manchester Guardian, not today’s, but one from a week past with a large penciled circle highlighting a critical article on a recent exhibition of work by Matisse with a note in the margin and a book reference that would receive further attention at a later stage. Neatly collected together to the right of the table sat a batch of letters, addressed in flowing hand scripted brown ink writing and ready for postage stamps. The early morning post lay open on the centre of the table. Nothing of any importance, a chatty letter from Harry that described in forensic detail his on-going argument about the installation at St. Matthews, and a request from Jeanette to attend an opening of an exhibition in town next week. Initially the idea of attending it played in his mind, hunched at an easel in the centre of the room, but the work soon overwhelmed his attention.
In Patrick’s time it was a sable paintbrush that dabbed against the canvas. Same day, same place, but different time it was Ben that could be seen with a pencil in hand. The newly sharpened 6b moved with certainty across the thick canvas that undulated slightly with the gentle pressure. As the lines wove together into a web of connection, the suggestion of fields and farm buildings emerged, starting from a triangle in the canvas centre and leading the eye from the rolling hillside towards a series of rooftops and chimneys, he etched a delineation from the natural to the man-made. I watched, sitting in silence as I often did in the old leather winged armchair, puffing my pipe and weaving my own intricate layered patterns of smoke across the sunlight of the studio. Again and again he sharpened the pencil, returning to the canvas and adding minor detail. Eyes flicking from surface to some other memory and back to the surface of the canvas. As I watched him I began to track the gaze of his the eye as it came to a vase and windowsill framed in the foreground of the studio. The hand that moved with the determination and assured touch of an architect, paused, the pencil was re-sharpened again with a small penknife and he looked at me, smiled. ‘Nearly there, nearly there’ he resumed his work, ensuring the lines carved out the requisite shapes on the canvas.
I was thinking about completion, how we somehow instinctively feel when something has reached its nadir, and what tells us that this is the case. I was thinking about Ben’s comments on leaving St Ives, on leaving Barbara and Patrick. I was thinking how even the slightest adjustment to what had happened would have resulted in another line in time. How the moments had converged in a set of events and how strange, when tracked backwards, the whole affair had been. Yet my memories of those times had themselves altered over time, and altered because of subsequent knowledge and experiences, altering everything except for some continually present features, light, tone, colour, form. It was as Patrick often said, ‘an impression’, words don’t explain the feeling and remain inadequate in a way that colour can cut a mood. All else seems transient. I was thinking how fragile our moments together were, with each other. How the moments of connection and interlacing of realities generated their own delicate webs of memory which at the time went unnoticed and then later, after the event, in the deathly long endgame of end-living, we cherish and we regret the fickleness of our youth. Our recklessness with the moment, our race through now to get to tomorrow. And so, I was touched by timelessness, by the fluctuation that is evident between carefully observed moments which, on any other day might go unnoticed and race past us lost in the blur of the ordinary. I was thinking about how, in Ben’s words, our work makes the ordinary extraordinary. I was perhaps hoping for something more, feeling, as I always did, that I had missed the moment and that it was only afterwards that I finally got it, it finally made sense, and then, in that moment of clarity I realized I was alone, and that it had all gone, long ago, long gone and I was just a lonely old man reflecting back on another age. Friendships of yester-year, smiles and conversations and ideas and observations which had through their work forged a capsule of time into a moment forever, and which I had let slip, time after time until ironically, I was all that was left in the flesh, but they were all I had in the mind and in my lonely present. I had, as I ever did, missed the significance of the moment.
A long day. The slow, quiet, patient seconds tipped into minutes passed, ticking into hours. Working in silence he composed a wall of colour across the screen. His heart provided the drumbeat of the day, thoughts echoed in his head as he worked.
Living as a stranger, me in my own world, you there beside. I in my chair, watching the hand create, watching the slow impending wave move across the white of the canvas. Me in my own world living – living as a stranger, watching it all slowly pass by, for way too long.
Patrick always spent hours on each crashing wave of colour, ensuring in one sitting that the requisite tonal quality had been achieved before leaving the work to dry, one sitting would sometimes demand eight continual hours of effort, often leaving him mentally and physically exhausted. As the day passed he regularly corrected the angle of the canvas against the prevailing drop of light coming from the ceiling canopy, ensuring, as best he could that there remained an even balance of paint across the huge canvas.
His attention to the detail of the line cancelled out his awareness of anything else in the room. He had no idea I was there most of the time, talking to him, questioning, responding to his occasionally spoken thoughts and observations. Absorbed into this trance-like state he worked, as he always worked, easing from within to a connection to the world without. Lines formed, reformed and finalised on the canvas, and time was cheated of a few of its precious moments inside the frame. It was an image which many years later I would claw back into the present, and through it form a bridge across the years.
There was always a strong delineation between sea and sky. The deep blue-green of the sea contrasted with the faded paler blue sky. The white frame of the windows captured this image perfectly simply. Hadn’t Ben used the window frame regularly in his work? He wondered if the joiner who had installed these windows some time in the early 1900’s had it in mind when he had undertaken the work to create a series of seven moving canvasses. Probably not, silly idea. But it was a work of art in itself and he thanked whoever it was that had placed the windows for their forethought, although in times past they probably had little interest in the sea and more on getting the fish gutted and salted. The windows were the right height and the right size and, on entering the room, they added a warmth and slight distraction from the otherwise blank walls.
Strange that. A pilchard factory without any lasting odour of pilchard. Instead the heady aroma of terpentine, a warm, oily slick smell that buffeted the nose. It was always so in this room, even when Ben was working here. His mind wandered across a set of well rehearsed, unresolved questions. What if Ben hadn’t left St Ives? What if Ben hadn’t suggested he dropped the writing and instead focused on his painting? His continued reflection on this long passed sequence of conversations played repeatedly on his mind, particularly he had noted, over the last few weeks. So much so, that the current activity of the day seemed to be pushed aside and the past kept creeping into him, bringing as it always did that sense of powerlessness that events passed but unresolved at the time always seem to generate new, unrealiseable permutations in the here and now.
The thing was, it had been such a huge decision, and whilst at the time he had convinced himself that it was his decision, it was, in retrospect, nothing of the sort. To that end Ben had won the argument, if that is what it was. He had the last say in a decision which was quite simply life-changing and that was a matter of concern. Because the subsequent drive and creative release was so overwhelming it had taken a long time to reveal and crystallise as a thought that this was really one of the few things in life which he had not managed and planned and controlled. Because it was so successful a move it had actually made it more pointed, the lesson of emergence had become a formative moment from which all other creative activity was to flow.
Decisions drove the morning. Were minute-to-minute actions actually the result of serious deliberation, or, were they more of a lottery, a set of random issues which surprisingly connected in ways that were initially unplanned but in retrospect made greater sense? It all seems so random, yet it becomes such order. Patrick wondered on to himself. This thought intrigued him, the notion of endless random acts connecting together to accumulate into something of greater significance when viewed through the distance of time. Is what we do in some way predestined? The observation had arisen because of a series of articles which had been recently published in both the broadsheets and the review journals which were exploring the epitome of modernism. He wondered long and hard about resuming the writing and drafting a response, but pride stood in the way and although he would never admit it, he knew it.
I must have dozed off. The dull clunk and associated ‘damnation!’ jolted me into the moment. Anyway, the palette had fallen from his hand and to his dismay smudged all down the side of his new blue cotton trousers. It lay on the floor, paint side down on the boards. ‘I told you it was a mistake to wear new pants in the studio.’ He snorted back, ‘Meeting Barbara for lunch my dear, thought it would save some time to go direct form here.’ ‘She wouldn’t mind what you were wearing’, ‘not the point, I just wanted a change… oh crap, this bloody paint!’ He was trying in vain to wipe the smudge of cyan off the lower leg with a dry cloth. ‘She’s got another commission you know, means she will need to be in London more often. We have to sort out about the children, its going to balls up my Paris activity for a while unless we can get a nanny or something…damn, bloody ruined… anyway its good for her to get out of here for a while and reconnect with town.’
His head drooped down towards the floor. As it happened he knew, his thoughts seemed to be just as heavy, the darkness sometimes closed around him so quickly he felt like the sun would never rise again. A weight of cloud, pushing into the mind. Bending to pick up the palette he recognised the small but significant sign of time working away on his body. His knees were just that little bit stiffer, on returning to a standing position he had a touch of giddiness and had to stabilise himself against the back of the old armchair. He drew a smile inwardly at himself, what he was once he was no longer. Perhaps Barbara had seen that too. He looked over towards me, eyes slightly glazed and watery. ‘I’ll miss her you know, when I go. I’ll miss her so very much you know.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘When I have moved on…’
Ben often wondered out loud when I sat with him. He would ask me difficult questions that concerned why things were as they were. He would recall the troubled feeling he got in the pit of his belly from the time when he reflected on times that they had spent together - especially that period when he finally noted to himself that he had done all he could in St Ives. He likened the realization to a daubed wash of grey, drawn slowly and deliberately across the white of the canvas, starting as a dense blob and trailing off to nothingness. Early excitements, moments when they both recognised that their intense sharing of ideas, theories, observation and insight was pulling them ever closer like two charged magnets. So intense that it was like a fuelled passion - a passion that was now somehow drawing to a close, beginning to fade and in its place came a numbness. The fusion had given way to familiarity – a familiarity which he felt was being daubed – blop after blop without pausing. Not necessarily unpleasant or dissonant, but a fuzziness which represented a new feeling of challenge and contest that was somehow unnecessary and unwanted but was creeping into their conversation and their demeanour every time they met.
He remembered the feeling the first time he had walked along the narrow streets of Downalong, nodding a morning greeting to the fishermen who sat, arms draped over the stable doors and leaning against walls, chatting to their neighbours and burning their first clay pipe of the afternoon. It was a warm yellow time. Sun shone. His every step was charged with energy, his eyes were flicking everywhere, soaking the light, the angles and depth of field and locking these momentary observations away for future reference to be recalled onto the canvas. Sharp, acute, curved. Those early days of learning to see. That was the earlier intensity, and it had faded, this was the now, and it too was on the wane. The realisation of this pattern in his connection with his work was at once liberating as it provided greater self clarity, and fearsome as it represented a step into another unknown - another period of seeking and connecting without any idea of direction. As he grew older, this fear grew greater, and yet it was more familiar. But the fear grew, it always grew.
Across the bay the evening clouds were speckled with rose sunlight. He sucked on his cigarette and exhaled, angling his head towards the ceiling windows. Resuming his poise his gaze refocused on the line of the rooftops, the long, precipitous drop from the outer houses to the lush fields and then to the dark waters edge a few miles in the distance. Across to the right, out of the corner of his eye he saw the fishermen hurriedly emptying the late afternoon catch and the small babble of locals negotiating a good price for a fish or two for their evening meal. The small Morris lorry with iced box crates stopping every 20 yards or so along the jetty loading up. His attention was drawn to the diminutive, pretty girl sitting on her own, watching the smallest of rowing boats and waving to a bronzed, tussle haired young man who was smiling and shouting something to her - his arms flailing.
...I find this all the time. All the time, all the time, there is a persistent, nagging, drawing pull like a tide which draws us away from clarity in what we do. Any day, of any working life, we face it, it saps our energy, our soul, our spirit, as we compromise again and again and again to ensure that the food hits the table and the colleagues are not offended and the job gets done. But it comes at a cost, a suffocating, soporific cost that accumulates, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day until slowly we begin to lose the thread. The thread which we diligently grasp through our formative years and infuse with hope and possibility, uncertain, delicate but willing it unfolds as time passes and only very few maintain the focus, perhaps through good fortune, perhaps through craft, perhaps through diligence and sometimes through simple genius of circumstance. It doesn’t really matter what it is, what matters is maintaining the clarity, to keep seeking the truth of it. We do it because we have to. It was what Patrick told me on that last occasion we met, it was an assured and insistent message that he offered, a vindication of why he had devoted time, his time, his life to his work - ‘Our work is not only an affirmation - an affirmation of our deepest, instinctive awareness that the very texture of life is dependent more upon organism than upon mechanism. It is also protest.’
Not understanding fully, at the time, I have kept it with me and in my subsequent years I have seen the sense in what he said. The preoccupation of the day to day upon mechanism, the relentlessness of ritually living and finding, by doing the days one after the next that I am slowly losing my connection with the rough texture of life and falling prey to those who would rather polish away the unevenness for fear of the difference it brings – if I let go, free fall into the possibility of whatever comes and peeling off the barrier layers of mechanism which help to detract the intensity of organism then I become in my thoughts and deeds unruly, unmanaged, dislocated, a differently visioned and patterned organism. But I fear this place, it is lonely, dark place and it is misunderstood by the present times.
Ben sat watchfully. His unease was palpable, he knew he would not be staying here for much longer, and while he was here he wanted to be sure that he made best use of the opportunities available. He was restless, disturbed by his sense of unease he wondered what was troubling him so much and yet was not revealing itself to him. His day was bleak, cold and work remained unfinished. Dislocated, a feeling of dislocation. It makes one uneasy because the pattern is not evident. It will come, but only through waiting, and sometimes, just sometimes, I can’t wait, it is too torturous.
Saturday July 13th 1974
Protest. It was midsummer. Midsummer 1958. Yes that was it. Ben had moved off to Switzerland and had left him the studio. The studio. Ben’s studio. Bit of a mess really, loads of work that he had decided to be rid of and then forgot to do so. The canvasses still piled against each other against a wall, some stuck together, others jutting into each other. Ben’s legacy, Ben’s world encroaching still on his own, his eye watching back from the canvas where it once had trained. It had been a disconcerting time, what with the ignorant reviews of the Redfern exhibition and the move into Ben’s shoes in Porthmeor.
Midsummer then and midsummer now. What difference had those years made except for the obvious? What differed? Why?
The town had changed, and was now bustling with tourists, not fishermen, people coming down from Bristol and Birmingham and Manchester on the train, people who wanted nothing more than to sit on the warm sand and eat ice-cream, chips and paddle in the sea. Their seasonal arrival brought a colourful festivity to St Ives but also marked his gradual withdrawal from the rituals he attended to during the rest of the year. Wandering the small cobbled streets and chatting to familiar faces, dropping in to Barbara’s for afternoon tea had become a less common summertime habit. It was as if the summer holiday season brought with it the outside world, and with that came another light, another more confusing array of tones which interfered with his concentration and muddled his intentions and actions. The other world which this part of West Penrith seemed to escape from so successfully out on the moorland above Eagles Nest, the creeping commercialisation of every aspect of life. The town was changing, it was being discovered over again by a new generation, it was being wrapped differently to service a new generation of consumers, looking for gratification from product and less inclined to want to delay the senses and seek out the deep texture. It has changed, and is changing, he told me. My work is shaped by me and my work is shaping me, but it is also shaping and being shaped by other pressures, is it enough any more, does it still protest? Does the spirit still live here, or has it become another product?
I had a response to the question the very next day. I was in the sitting room reading the paper, mid morning. There was a knock on the door. Everyone else was out, I declined the chance of a lift to the studio in preference to do my letters and such like. Anyway, a young woman, smartly dressed in black beret, polo neck jumper and black skirt and boots stood at the door, and a few steps behind her a tall young man.
Hello. You are the famous painter Patrick Heron? It was a statement of fact more than a question. Can I help you? We were driving by and I just happened to mention… the tall man stepped forward, and I thought I have to meet him then! She finished his sentence, her accent was difficult to place, perhaps French but more Eastern European, he was most certainly English. I liked this strange pair, it was at once an unusual thing to have guests who invited themselves and yet it seemed so sensible, just passing, through we would drop in and say hello and have a look at what you are doing. Well you had better come in then.
We had breakfast tea, sitting in the bay window overlooking the garden. He already knew a good deal of me and my work and was most apologetic that they were intruding. She however was effusive, walking around the sitting room asking this and that, where did I exhibit, what did the family think of my work, what informed my ideas, why did I choose to live in such a remote place? I was amused by them, lightened by the youthful vigour of enquiry and interest, a keenness to see things and to make sense of them. After an hour they left, smiles, thanks, handshakes, a kiss to each cheek. It was a delight. A white backround and a rainbow of rich dazzling garden. It was a delight.
Over those years the community of artists with whom Patrick had shared, learnt and consolidated his sense of colour had dwindled and the attention of the art world had moved on, like a flock of birds to another town, another theme, another sale and another fashion. It was the seventies. Market driven art was now in full swing, and the plethora of agencies, associations, promoters and consultants who attached themselves to the circus were to him a distraction of the first order. In the case of many, their ignorance of art which was fuelled and enhanced by their pursuit of profit only served to heighten their irrelevance and disconnect to him. Some however, maintained a dignity and carried a gravitas which provided scope for him to be able to guide and locate his work in a way to maintain an income with integrity. Pragmatically he accepted their necessity but it was a distraction, one that presented problems of its own as recognition and financial success arising from sales grew. Sales were good and interest in his work was fully established and had a momentum of its own. Commissions were regular and gratifying, the expansion of contemporary art in public places was perhaps a positive sign of the times. As the country grew more prosperous it grew more interested in public displays of artists work, which in turn drove the market for such work, which in turn he felt, distanced the art from the people rather than drew them closer. The dislocation of the modern view from popular culture never worried him in the slightest, but the danger of no protest was a persistent concern. He felt that his retreat from writing was complete and with it came a sense of not having to be so at odds with himself, not having to provide a continual commentary for some anonymous other but this resulted in an enhanced emphasis on the work, the ‘urgency of the brush’ as Ben had stressed to him, over the ‘urgency of the pen.’ Instead, (and this was irritating as Ben had also suggested it to him), he was beginning to see his work in a new way and with considerable clarity and the need for written expression diminished as a lexicon of colour, plasticity and depth took its place. Perhaps the distraction of writing had generated the duality of views, (Ben’s words not his). It still grated though, he always thought that he knew himself better than Ben gave him credit. Just that when people are close to you they choose to interpret what you are and how you are in their own shadow, mythologizing and deifying and ignoring and denying all facets of being a person amongst people.
Midsummer brought with it other transitions than that of the seasonal turn to holidays. A growing realisation that one’s work was accumulating and generating a momentum of its own, somehow independent of self, and as a result the wave of directions it opened up were in danger of engulfing the eye, reducing the clarity and diffusing the intentions. Being famous, the celebrity within a circle in the know... or recognising and accepting the reality of being recognised as significant in the field brought no consolation, it was a troubled place - just another troubled place amongst many perhaps.
You have to choose to improve. The act of creating something from scratch is a mystical process. Never sure what or where the eye will take upon the artist has to uncouple form the constant needs of the outside world to produce and to learn to listen, to tap into the quieter places that move the spirit.
Patrick stood facing the ocean on the warm golden sand. He had been walking along from one end of the beach to the other following the trail of debris left from the high tide mark. Occasionally a pebble, or a piece of sea-bleached wood caught his eye. He had followed the line etched by the tiny black pebbles which formed a thin line delineating dry from wet sand. The juggling of the edges between dry and wet sand seemed to have a tension between them which defined two different yet connected worlds, and it was the interface of these two worlds of sand that joyfully intrigued and entertained. Solid blocks of yellow which on closer inspection were mottled daubs, grains against a larger canvas, tectonic plates clashing but delicately poised between each other. Worlds in tension, worlds intention, fate.
1958. Ben had been worried, deeply worried for a long while. In the end, depressed and frustrated he had made arrangements and left town. It had been a period of profound and creative thinking and powerful argument between himself and Patrick, as Ben pushed him more towards atmosphere in his work, towards a new frontier and away from the writing and commentary. ‘It is a distraction that you can live without’ he told Patrick, ‘there are plenty of critics, but leading edge painters are few and far between - devote time to your craft, push the edge of seeing, but bloody well work at it.’ Ben had a way of observing the work which encouraged him in turn to be more courageous and determined, but he knew he had to see him leave town before he could find himself fully in colour. The friendly competitiveness that Patrick felt for Ben was perhaps that of youth watching age. Ben was already an international name, exhibiting widely and receiving commissions and invitations on a regular basis. He had mastered line, and like Matisse, was employing new technique to older tried and tested resources. Patrick, quite a few years his junior, was to Ben, a prodigious talent, who was in need of some guidance and nurture. In a genuine sense he aspired for the young painter. Patrick found this at once an encouragement and something with which he needed to manage with a degree of caution - he wasn’t to be squashed. He was his own man. Too much heeding of his mentor and he became referential, too little and he realised he would not gain from the immense opportunity that their friendship provided in both practical and spiritual support. To make a living as an artist was not an easy choice, it demanded considerable self-belief, and whilst this abounds in youth, it also seemed to spawn equal amounts of self-doubt which was evident in Ben and Barbara’s relationship with their work, and with each other. The feature of this tension, choice, had been a regular point of discussion between the two men over many a drink. When we look back, our lives make sense, when we look forward the idea of sense is not always prevalent - only worry, nagging self-doubt and disconnected possibilities.
He knew that with Ben away overseas he would have lost the regular contact, the challenge of his insight and the clarity of his observation which served as both a corrective and a guide, but that was not for public consumption and certainly not something that he wanted to tell Ben. Patrick was more than aware that his ease of transition had prompted personal tremors and doubts, just as the mumblings of the St Ives artists set indicated a wider suspicion of acrimony, he steeled himself for a rocky ride through to the Autumn ahead. The clouds of anxiety were in sight, but not yet imposing on the intensity of the light.
The sky is a system, connecting the heavens to the sea. It generates a surface image which I have always loved. There was a mystery to the connection of one to the other which is difficult to evoke on the surface of a canvas, not as a symbol, but simply as a connection of two forms, on a single plane, two colliding banks of colour.
‘My exploration has, for many years now, been one of a journey into the continent of colour. I recognise in me the compulsion to examine the unexplored and the undiscovered, even though as yet I am not there I feel its place, its presence. The possibilities of colour exude from every moment I paint. I find that I draw great energy and enjoyment from the experiences it offers me and recent work has pushed deep into the examination of contract of weight, warmth, coolness and vibrancy. I keep coming back to the vibrancy, the intensity of juxtaposed violet and green! Certainly anywhere, anytime, in the garden, on the moor or in the studio it never ceases to enthrall me.’ (Private diaries)
Porthmeor beach was splendid at this time of day, as the red evening sun fell heavy and drunk into the wide blue ocean. He soaked in the warm colour, eyes half closed it seemed to burn into his very being, rejuvenating and energising his spirit. The heat that had absorbed into the sand throughout the sun-drenched day surged back to the surface and was caught by the breeze in little flurries and flickerings of warmth. If you stood still and concentrated hard it was not unusual to feel the pulse of the earth below your feet. The waves tipping and turning on the beach crested in white spray and peeled across the sand with a comforting wash into the still dry white sand. He loved this spot, situated close to the studio. It brought him tranquility and a sense of balance. On days like this it was one of the finest places to be.
Fluidity had been a feature of the day, confined fluidity, as it was held within the rigidity of the canvas that was in preparation. This day had been complex and mostly unresolved but now it mellowed as the evening came down on Porthmeor. Did mechanism come from such fluidity though? Ought I be aware of method determining form? What was it Barbara had said, ‘watch your watching, and see your seeing because no one else can or will do it for you.’
I looked around me. On my own at Porthmear. Three huge white canvases leaned against the studio wall. Each had been stretched, primed and left to dry, they caught the evening sun that glowed warm against the stark white of the walls. A further canvas was hung on the wall at waist height. This canvas was still wet, as your gaze moved over it the thin drape of the colour glistened in the late evening sunshine and reported back to the eye a series of shapes interlinking yet separate, clashing as ochre met olive green.
Ben had often talked about the light on the walls, how it enchanted and inspired him in the early evening. I recalled how, some twenty years earlier they had sat on this same spot and spoken at length about the work of Matisse. Both shared an admiration for his use of line and colour, indeed, both had drawn inspiration from one or the other aspect of his work and carried it directly into their own compositions. I always felt more attuned to his use of colour and felt that there was always a slight uncertainty of angle and of intent which Ben had missed in his analysis. My sensitivity to the matter of working with my elder had perhaps in retrospect blurred my opinions, I had been wrong. The trouble was that I had avoided acknowledging that I was wrong. Ben had read Matisse like a book. I know now and I regret that we didn’t carry our shared devotion and study of him much further.
I have a black and white routine, it reminds me of things which otherwise I fail to do and so if I do these things I feel more secure.
Before traveling, find the correct bag, make sure that tickets and passport are secure yet easily accessible. Always place my wallet in the small zip-up section of the hand luggage. I had caught this habit from Barbara and Patrick. She was religiously methodical in her preparation for any new piece. In particular it was the observation of the marble before any work began. Endless slow revolutions like a witch circling the cauldron. I mentioned it her once and she was not amused. ‘How else can I know what I am working with?’ God how I struggle with her, the disconnection between us is palpable. How did Ben manage to put up with it for so long?
The brush was first dipped in meths, then the pot of colour, in this case ochre, was stirred with another brush. The meths added to slightly thin the mix, and then slow, meticulous layers of ochre were added to the canvas in a gently advancing wave of colour across the shapes that had been outlined in a thin line of pencil. The movement was relentless, from brush to pot to canvas where the brush evened out any sign of surface plasticity and indentation and unevenness of colour. As the work progressed there was an occasional return to earlier parts of the canvas where a slight omission had occurred and the paint was showing too much movement, these undulations were eradicated and the solid wall of colour continued. Eventually, after two hours of sustained effort, the first of the ochre shapes was completely realised, raw on the canvas. The moment had then arrived to stop and to replace the brushes in the meths and to step back from the work and consider. He stood five or so paces away and looked carefully at the work, his left arm crossed his chest and his right hand tucked under the chin. The undulating line at this point crashed against the white of the canvas in its naked state. The impression was evident already, but the colour was as yet not the overwhelming feature, more so was the contrast of ochre to white which enabled him to consider carefully the clarity of the line and the overall tension that it was likely to achieve. A clash that razed the canvas.
His eye wandered meticulously from left to right, drawing along an imaginary edge, then reverting back and redrawing, etching the delineation between the burnt amber and green to come later. Feeling across the canvas the numerous plates of colour jostled for position in his mind, edging forward he led the thin line of pencil from top to centre in one long defined movement cutting apart the canvas from the deeper green to come from the ochre already there he saw the required line, recorded the next step and retreated back to consider what was now further defined.
Patrick was amused at my story. I had dreamt that afternoon as I sat in the corner of the studio that Matisse was here in the room with us, as an old man, nearly blind, watching from the torn leather armchair leaning forward on a cane topped with silver - watching with interest, nodding and grunting to himself. When I turned to ask him what he was looking at he was gone, the armchair was empty, just an imprint left in the cushion - retaining the memory of his form. In the presence of angels my dear chap. Stay off the pop until the evening and you may sleep more soundly.
Exhausted from the work, a relentless journey of colour and time, he saw for the first time the whole that had been planted onto the canvas, and he knew it was time he stopped for the day.
Saturday August 13th 1966
Across town, a few streets away from Porthmear Beach, Barbara sat on a wicker chair and studied a white marble slab. Kids. They are driving me fucking crazy, how can I work? Her face, hair, hands and sleeves were covered in a fine white marble powder. Her day had involved a series of encounters with the block woven with a frequent revisiting of the scattered pages of notes and drawings which were strewn across the small coffee table and scattered on the floor. First impressions would suggest a tempered fling had left the papers where they were, but these would not be accurate. Instead, the papers had been placed there carefully in sequence, and although the light wind had caught the corners of one or two of them and flicked them slightly askew, they remained a record of actions followed and actions as yet to come. She sat awkwardly, crossed legged and head in hands. Her questioning of her own work had led her to reconsider the line that the earlier attempt at the piece had left unresolved. Intuitively she was uneasy of the shape that was emerging from the block, the geometry was not quite there and her resulting frustration with the material and her own efforts to see into it left her exhausted and disillusioned with the work. She scribbled a few lines in the uppermost page of the remaining notebook on the table and pulled the pages on the floor together and put them carefully to the side of the current journal. She tied the string pull together across the covers and as an afterthought she added a scribble on a new note that it was time to call Harry to get the details of the exhibition, she also noted a short shopping list for the forthcoming trip to London. She hadn’t been up to town for what seemed like an eternity and the prospect generated mixed feelings. She caught herself taking a deep breath, it woke her from her wanderings and she looked again over to the marble. The hollowed pool on its face was reminiscent of the beach walk long in the past when Ben had taken her to a newly found cove full of the most rocky sentinels. ‘No form in nature is ever accidental, they all reveal structural realities and so it is in her recent work’ Ben had echoed Patrick’s published commentary in the New York Review on her work as he circled around her waving his arms like a huge swan. Always lecturing, silly old bastard, why is this such a struggle most of the time, when he is in this kind of mood I am at my happiest moments? She looked again at the stone in front of her, at best she thought to herself, when delicate, taut, airy and logical, geometrically logical. Focus, focus, focus. The piece still showed face, and she knew intuitively that this was to be, it was going to work, the new line of the marble hollow began to show itself as the evening sunlight caught the wall of the studio. The silhouette outlining the form. It was there, but not yet there. She returned to chip away. Trance like.
My father died yesterday. I can still hear his voice. I can still see him in the garden, heaving heavy stones across from one part of the garden path to another. I can still sense the energy he held within, and then, as I sat with him and his breathing changed week by week moving from calm intake to great heaving efforts to fill the lungs and then the final gasping moments. His hand squeezing mine and he was gone. Time stood still then, and perhaps has done with him and me forever. I still cry sometimes when I think of him.
A stranger sat across from me in the café on the harbour front. We exchanged glances, and then he asked me if I was here on holiday. No, I work and live here. Strange, my reply, I reflected later, I work and live here. Why? He was down as part of a government sponsored review of regional funding. As he ordered another pot of tea he informed me that his father had just died. It was his first trip away from home since this had happened and he was surprised how lonely it had made him feel. I listened. I didn’t divulge that I was in a similar emotional state, I just listened. He told me of his children, completing their examinations to study law at Oxford, he told me of his wife, who didn’t want to live in the south and lived at the family home in Morpeth, Northumberland. He told me of travels, to Asia and the middle east where the changing world was also touching and reforming earlier civilizations. When asked about his thoughts on St Ives he was evasive I thought. ‘These are monumentally important times’ he rasped, his cigarette smoke puffing out as he spoke. ‘When we look back in twenty five years time, and see the changes happening now we will wonder how we ever managed to live life in this squalid country like we did, with all its greyness and post war hesitancy. With a little conviction, as a nation, we can reinvent ourselves. But people have to move with it, you know’ he eyed me over his horn-rimmed glasses, ‘take this place for example, do we really think that fishing is going to keep the economy alive and kicking? Who is going to do it to start with? Fishermen I proffered. He sipped his tea and added more sugar. I looked around the café. Surprisingly busy for a Tuesday afternoon. What do you do for a living down here then? I hesitated, the emphasis on ‘down here’ gnawed somewhat. I represent people’s ideas, particularly creative people who are very busy creating things and don’t always have the time to involve themselves in the drudgery of selling their work and meeting clients. So you are an agent? Yes, I am an agent. An agent of fortune. Perhaps even an agent of change, just like yourself. I explore ways of seeing the world through pieces of art which many people find challenging and sometimes difficult to see. I tell them how to see. Once they can see, they can tell others. They go off and they pollinate those who can afford to purchase what my clients create, and that my dear, is how we all, together, manage to make a squalid living, exploiting situations so that one or two special people are able to follow a road which most of us will never even recognize as being a road until one day, when they are gone, and all we can do is look at what is left and ask ourselves where on earth did that come from?
December 13th 1947
Ben was annoyed. He had received yet more clippings sent anonymously to him from someone at the Manchester Guardian in the early morning post which had irritated him all day and played on his mind. So what if the abstract expressionists were not getting a mention, so what if they didn’t get it in their stuffy English way? He could see that there was energy and space, and all that soft colour in abundance in the new American work. Shit. So what was new? If they couldn’t connect to his work that was their problem not his. What was the point of an agent anyway? What was he meant to be doing? Yet it deeply troubled him, to the point of interfering with his entire day and for that he was well and truly pissed off.
He put down his pencil. Looking out of the smallest of the windows he could make out the black hillside which led the eye down to the rocks where yesterday he and Barbara had strolled, picking pebbles and admiring the waves crashing. He rose and pulled on his jacket. Checked for cigarettes and a handful of change and went down to the ground floor. More post had arrived. What was it with the postal service? The randomness of delivery times challenged his sensibilities. Leaving the door on the latch he pulled it towards the frame, it snagged on some gravel and refused to close, he tugged it harder and finally it clicked into the frame he stepped out onto the cobbled street.
St Ives always had a way of catching him off his guard, and this evening with him in a grim mood was no exception, for, as his gaze moved down the row of tiny cottages his eye was caught by a reddish orange glow on the whitewashed house-fronts and he warmed inside. It was there for a fleeting moment and then gone as the sun finally dipped below the horizon out on the ocean. Whilst he loved the place he always had a melancholy feeling about it. This time he felt that he was in his last summer in the little town, he put the thought aside. Seagulls cackled and swooped above him, and the breeze brought with it the scent of old fish from the harbour. The greyness of the day seemed to fall away from him. He sauntered down to the front, where most of the days boats had already tied up. Any sign of fishermen and the catch were long gone. One lonely figure was still out in a small rowing boat, messing with nets, otherwise the place was empty except for gulls. He caught sight of the young man he had seen waving to his girl earlier. He watched him at work, drawing the nets towards his body in long, rhythmical sways of his arms, noting the ease with which his hands played over the nets checking for the odd sign of any damage. There was a flow in his work that made him look like a dancer on a stage.
When I sit and look at the work I often find that I am taken aback at what I see. My eye doesn’t seem to connect with what I thought I had been doing just a few moments before to the point of no recognition or connection with the marks I make. Occasionally I can see where I was, and what I was after, but for so many of these efforts I find myself back at the beginning, I reconcile myself that this is a state which will perhaps never be fully resolved and so I will preserve my energy for another attempt. Sometimes however, I just long for the clarity to come fully through, from the moment of connection with the canvas to the moment I stop and look and see what I have created. The flow is an energy which is so difficult to fully master, the eye and the mind and the connection of that which is to that which I feel are at best arbitrary, at worst torturous. (Diary entry: 1957 Zennor)
Across the bay the evening clouds were speckled with rose-red sunlight. Another cigarette was cherished and lingeringly exhaled. Resuming his poise his gaze refocused on the line of the rooftops, the long, precipitous drop from the outer houses near the harbour to the waters edge. He thought again about the days work, sitting in the studio on the easel. Was it too busy? Was there enough space? Should I leave out more? He saw the fishermen hurriedly emptying the days catch, gutting the flesh of the fish and throwing the remnants overboard. Here and there the small babble of folks negotiating a price for a fish or two for their evening meal. The lorry with ice-crates stopping every 20 yards or so and loading up.
At dinner that evening Ben was revisiting a story which had appeared in the paper he had started reading at breakfast. He paraphrased the story for Barbara, adding occasional additional details to embellish and entertain as he recounted the entire tale as it were a stage play. Apparently this place, L’Ile Bouchard is a small town in north-western France, on the River Vienne. (We went there, remember? Its that small tributary of the Loire, twenty miles south of Tours and about ten miles east of Chinon?) Anyway, there in the parish church of St Gilles, from the 8th until yesterday, there have been a series of apparitions of the virgin Mary. The first apparition in the church at L’Ile Bouchard took place on the afternoon of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. At about one o’clock in the afternoon a little girl called Jacqueline Aubry, aged 12, her sister Jeanette, aged 7, and their cousin, Nicole Robin, aged 10, were on their way back to school after lunch in the Aubry house, when, at Jacqueline’s suggestion they stopped at the church of St Gilles to pray.
Barbara sat herself on the arm of the sofa, drink in one hand and cigarette in the other and listened attentively. Ben continued. They went to the altar of the Virgin and began to say a decade of the rosary; but they were not quite half way through when Jacqueline saw a beautiful Lady before her, all in white, with hands joined in prayer and a rosary over her right arm. To the left of her was an angel holding a lilly, eyes fixed in contemplation of the Lady.
The children reported later that the Lady smiled at them and then nodded. Jacqueline whispered that they must tell other people what was happening, so they ran out together and saw a school friend, Laura Croizon, aged 8, and her 13 year old sister, Sergine. They grabbed their arms and dragged them to the church, the five girls made their way towards the altar, as they got there Laura cried out that she could see a beautiful lady and an angel. Sergine, though, saw nothing, and the others had to describe the scene for her. ‘That would be you darling’ laughed Barbara, ‘with me describing it in all its glory…go on. ‘The altar of the Virgin had a stained glass window featuring Our Lady of Lourdes to its left, and a statue of Our Lady of Victories directly above it. The apparition was situated several feet off the ground in the corner between the altar and the window.
Ben took a sizeable swig of his wine and placed it back on the coffee table. Barbara stood up and stretched her arms. Wait, don’t go, said Ben. There’s more to this, much more. Barabar sat down again leaning against his shoulder. When they were questioned the girls described a beautiful Lady, surrounded by a golden light, wearing a brilliant white dress edged with gold, and a blue sash, and carrying a white rosary. Her veil was a white of a different hue and fell down to near her feet, while the girls could see her striking long blond hair falling down the front of her body, in two parts, to her knees. Her smile was wonderful, and they thought her to be aged about 16 or 17.
Then there is the angel, surrounded by an intense white light, who was kneeling on his right knee, and wore a rosy-white robe, also edged with gold. Like the Lady he had blue eyes and blond hair. In his right hand he held out a lilly stalk, while his left hand was placed upon his heart. He had white wings, also trimmed with gold, whose feathers shone and moved slightly in a “breeze” the children could not feel.
Once the girls had explained all this to Sergine, the Lady disappeared, and they all made way their way out of the church. Jacqueline and Jeanette rushed home to tell their mother, but she didn’t believe them. Well would you? He turned the page of the paper. So, it goes on, once back at school it says that the news spread very quickly, Jacqueline recounts all of what has happened to one of the sisters, Sr. Marie de L’Enfant Jésus, that she had seen a beautiful Lady in the Church, but wondered who she might be—was she the Blessed Virgin? The Sister believed instantly, but feared the reaction.
So enters the parish priest, Fr Clovis Ségelle, and the head teacher, Sr. Saint-Léon de la Croix. They came into the school yard just then, and they were not impressed by the reports. Fr Ségelle said that Jacqueline must have been seeing double through her thick glasses - because of her poor vision and chronic conjunctivitis, Jacqueline did have to wear glasses and continually wipe her eyes.
Jacqueline explained that the other girls had also seen the Lady, and so Fr Ségelle and Sr. Saint-Léon decided to question them separately. Each gave the same account, and as school began again, Jacqueline spoke once more with the head teacher, who dismissed her curtly, while managing to give her the impression that she should have stayed in the church if the Lady was really so beautiful. Jacqueline took up this idea, and lost no time in fetching the other girls and leading them back to the altar of the Virgin, where they were delighted to be beckoned again by the smiling Lady.
As they knelt before her, though, her expression became extremely sad as she slowly uttered her first words: “Tell the little children to pray for France, for her need is great.” Jacqueline, still not sure who the lady was, then whispered to Jeanette and Laura to ask the Lady if she was their “Maman du Ciel.’ They did so, and the reply was “But of course I am your Maman du Ciel!” Jacqueline then asked about the angel. The Lady looked at him, and he turned towards the girls and said: “I am the angel Gabriel.”
Mary then turned back to the girls and asked for their hands to kiss, bending low to reach the hands of Jacqueline and Nicole. But the other two girls were much smaller and could not reach high enough. Jacqueline took them up, one after the other, and lifted them up at arms length, as though they were practically weightless.
All four testified to the solidity and warmth of Mary’s hand and the touch of her lips. Before disappearing in a cloud of silvery dust, she asked them to return that evening at five o’clock and the next day at one o’clock. After the girls left the church, they noticed a shining white oval on their fingers. Look how the light pours out of me Jacqeline observed. But before they got back to school these traces, which they did manage to show to a local woman, had faded.
Jacqueline and Nicole spoke of what had happened, and after class they were separated and asked to write out accounts of their experiences, which were matching in every detail. Once the girls got home they found their parents were not inclined to believe them, and only Jacqueline was able to return to the church, for the rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in honour of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Mary appeared and beckoned to her, but as she debated whether to go forward or not, looking back toward Sr. Saint-Léon for permission, assuming that she too could see the apparition, the bell rang for Benediction, and when she looked back the apparition was gone. But once the Blessed Sacrament had been returned to the tabernacle, Mary reappeared.
The next day, it says Tuesday 9 December, at one o’clock, all four girls assembled in the church, and so the general pattern for the week’s events was set. They knelt by the Virgin’s altar and began to pray Hail Marys, when suddenly a shining golden sphere, about three feet across, came out of the wall and unfolded itself as a rectangular curtain of silvery light, on which the rocky grotto stood out in relief.
Mary’s long golden hair, which had so impressed the girls on the first day, was now hidden underneath her veil. The angel was kneeling on the other side, while the words on the rocks had changed. Now they read: “Je suis l’Immaculeé Conception.”
The girls were then joined by a certain Madame Trinson, who owned a shoe shop in the town. Mary, with a grave expression, showed the girls the golden cross of her rosary, and asked them to kiss it. Jacqueline and Nicole both stood up to do this, and Madame Trinson was amazed to see Jacqueline repeat her feat of the previous day, lifting up the two younger girls as though they were dolls, as light as a feather, in order that they too could kiss the golden cross. The metal was cold to their lips and they were penetrated with a sense of Mary’s grief.
The Virgin then made an extremely slow, sign of the cross. It took two minutes to complete, and the girls copied her movements, with Madame Trinson looking on in astonishment. Barbara mimed the sign to herself, listening intently. Once this was over Mary said that she would tell them a secret that they could reveal in three days, and with great emphasis said: “Pray for France, which in these days is in great danger.” I guess she means because of the possibility of civil unrest. Then she asked that the priest come at two o’clock, with the children and a crowd, so that they could all pray. She also asked for a grotto, and that her statue and that of the angel should be placed in it, promising to bless them once this was done. With that the apparition disappeared.
Fr Ségelle, however, refused to come at two, and so Jacqueline, Jeanette and Laura, with about twenty other children, and thirty adults, assembled in the church. After they had said a batch of Hail Marys, the Virgin and the angel appeared as before, out of the golden ball. She asked for hymns and prayers, before telling them to return each day at one o’clock, until everything was over. At five-thirty Fr Ségelle informed the archbishop of the day’s events. That same day, to general surprise, the Communists decided to call off their general strike.
Then on that third day, last Wednesday, one hundred and fifty people waited in the church for the next appearance of Mary. Suddenly the Virgin was present, and again she requested a sung version of the Hail Mary, before asking the girls to kiss her hand. The crowd, like Madame Trinson, were amazed to see the frail Jacqueline repeat her feat of lifting the two smallest girls.
Then Jacqueline’s mother called out to her daughter requesting a miracle so that all would believe, to which Mary replied: “I have not come here to perform miracles, but to tell you to pray for France. However, tomorrow you will see clearly and you won’t need to wear glasses any more.”
Then Mary told the girls that she was going to tell them a secret, which they must promise not to reveal. They agreed to this, and, after the secret the Virgin asked them to return again the next day at the same time, before disappearing into the golden ball. This apparition had lasted about a quarter of an hour. As in the case of other authentic apparitions, the girls could not be persuaded, by any means, to divulge the secret.
Naturally enough, the people wanted to know what the answer to the request for a miracle had been, and the girls related that Mary had said that from tomorrow Jacqueline would see clearly and not need glasses. At five o’clock, Fr Ségelle interviewed Jacqueline, and poured scorn on the idea that her eyes, which were really in a dreadful condition, could possibly improve overnight.
Jacqueline’s parents were in something of a quandary; because they were non-practising Catholics, and her father had been embarrassed by remarks concerning his daughter, and become angry. But the transparent sincerity of his eldest daughter had struck him deeply, and now they would have to wait and see what the morning brought.
When Jacqueline woke up, she was able to open her eyes without any difficulty and had normal vision. She called to her parents in delight, who were overjoyed at seeing their daughter’s eyes cured so miraculously. Her father rushed to get Fr Ségelle, who exclaimed on seeing Jacqueline: “So it’s true that She has descended among us!” The priest immediately contacted the archbishop and was told to be present at the next apparition.
So we get to Thursday the fourth day and the story stops, the reporter says that any future activity and events will be in further correspondence.
Barbara looked at him as he folded the paper. I’ll get in touch with Georges and see what he knows. Its strange how I find these stories very unsettling. I don’t really know what I think about it. Ben looked at her slowly and took another drink. I know, I know, but it is a great story isn’t it, can you imagine being there, how weird that would be, why would they make something like that up? Oh I can imagine only too well, just think what a field day the press vultures would be having if that type of thing was happening here? That’s what I mean, its unsettling because I don’t know. I just don’t know. And I feel unsettled because I don’t like to feel I need to know, I don’t feel I need to have an explanation even though I kind of want one. Most of life is discovering and then when I’m faced with something really off the edge I don’t want it like that. Odd. Ben continued. Anything is possible, the face in the mirror may be mine, but it may be another’s. He smiled. It is like a welcome to modern life, this kind of story cuts across a way of seeing makes a doorway to another place, I find it unsettling, curious but unsettling.
Barbara picked up the newspaper and began scanning the article all over again. Ben got up from the table carrying his plate and went to the kitchen. The cat with no name was back in the house, sauntering in as if it owned the place it pirouetted in the middle of the floor and then proceeded to sniff under the kitchen dresser. Ben watched it with an amused and distracted silence, he enjoyed its daily interruptions into their life, unannounced it arrived, acted out its part and then disappeared again into the bustle of the town, their own little visitation. He left Barbara sitting on the arm of the sofa, paper in hand, absorbed.
I am standing on rocks by the coastline south of Zennor. Barbara had taken me there to look at the enormous sea sculptures which stood at the waterfront like a tribe of giants facing out to sea. Waves slapped and cracked loudly against them and the seaweed wove a tapestry of sub-aqua fury in the foaming rock pools. After a while the relentless to and fro of the water on the rock seems to transfer from the cacophony of thunderous booms into a background symphony, below the immediate awareness but ever present. Observing this I mention it to Barbara, how something as overwhelming on first arrival slowly recedes as other preoccupations emerge. She says nothing, listening carefully to me but not responding and silently turns her face back out to the sea. I follow her gaze towards the horizon, the wind buffeting my jacket in unpredictable twists and turns. What do you believe in? She asks. What do you really believe in?
I find myself lost for words.
I could answer you now if you were here but you have gone, long gone. I believe in organism not mechanism, I believe in the creative spirit, I understand what Patrick was trying to tell me, but I understand too late. It is merely a way of looking that has driven me here, to this place, to this way of seeing, to this texture of reality. Through it I am both one and I am lost. It puzzles me to see others who are free to wander through life without the endless question. How peaceful that must be, how carefree. That would be my answer Barbara, but I never was one to rush to a response. I am sorry it has taken me so long, so very long. A lifetime. I believe in organism, not mechanism, I saw it in you, my friends, dawn from deep within and brought to the forefront of your life and work, I watched it ebb and flow, I watched the turmoil of its impact on each of you, I watched because it was all I could ever manage to do. I could only believe in what I saw through your works, I could never realize it in my own actions because I couldn’t ever seem to make the connect, take the final step to touch it in the raw. That is my answer to you.
Did you read that piece in The Times on the apparition at L’lle Bouchard? I must have dozed off. I did remember it though. I remember Ben telling me the tale as we drank beer in the Sloop by the harbour. I remembered the sensation of security that the cloistered seats provided, I remembered the taste of the bitter, and the darkness and smokiness of the place. Ben was alive with ideas, possibilities for new work which engaged him in fertile discussion, which of course led to more beer, but at the same time the excess of alcohol seemed to leave him struggling with himself in a way that I never saw with Barbara. Self-doubt riddled him to the core, and drink would open that to the world. I did see the article, I read it after you had mentioned it to me, out of curiousity, of course. It troubled me, it made me feel insecure.
I was walking along Porthmeaor beach, looking back towards the hillside towards the Tate Gallery. The wind was cutting into me, it as cold. I regretted the idea of having gone to St Ives at this time of year. I was too old for the cold winds, it played havoc with my rheumatism. More to the point it made me melancholy. Lonely.
A few observations… it is so quiet, compared to summertime. Not just the for lack of people, but also the for the lack of energy that people bring with them which seems to feed the noisy seagulls who have apparently gone off to find better sources. There is an eery silence and slowness to the place. The silence. It is overwhelming, I stop. What is it that is so disconcerting? I sit on the bench overlooking the harbour. Tears are dripping down my cheeks following the contours of my wrinkled face. My polka-dot handkerchief mops them. What is it about these people that I have found so compelling for so much of my life? Why might a place have such a pull for people, so much so that they commit so much of their lives and their energy to that place?
We are fickle beings. The news of yesterday has no bearing on the news of today and it falls between the cracks of fading memories. (Diaries 1957 Zennor)
My life comes down in the end to connections and failed connections, it has been a search for clarity which leads to truth and a search which found me more often in dark places. There are no doubt a million ways one can get there, but the critical thing is clarity and it is a rare gift to hold and sustain. These people had clarity, and through them I have lived a good life, frustrated by the slowness with which I put it all together and in awe of how they managed to cope and still maintain that clarity. The way Patrick got there was through colour. As I see it Ben got there through line and Barbara got there through form. So there we have it, in a nutshell, clarity leading to truth, a timeless reality. My final thoughts as I sit, frozen, old and tired on the seafront of the harbour, many winters have passed since I saw them all, I wonder if I will see them again?
Together and apart we see this so clearly, so completely that it aches within us. We form, reform and then we die, leaving, when and where we can, a moment, a timeless moment of clarity and togetherness. (Diaries, 2007 Zennor)
‘the white ocean-reflected light, which almost bleaches things in its diffuse radiance’  5. Patrick Heron : Five Types of Abstraction - Ben Nicholson. The Changing Forms of Art, 1955
Posted by Paul Clarke at 22:00