A Calliphoridae Pile-up!
What do you call a fly without wings? Answer: a ‘walk’. I know it’s an old one, I hear you groan. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my fellow creatures, but I confess to a loathing for flies and where flies are concerned, the only blowfly I can tolerate is a dead blowfly. As if to torture me, over the past few weeks a swarm of ‘cluster’ flies have taken up residence in my studio….in their millions. I don’t even want to think where they might have come from or where they were getting their sustenance from. Unlike Damien Hurst, I do not encourage them as part of an installation with rotting cow head…..no, they have invaded my sacred work space, and before I can contemplate spending constructive time in my studio, something had to be done.
So every day for the past week, I declared war on this most unwelcome plague. (Please note, my dear Buddhist friends, look away now). Holding my breath, I would run into my studio wildly waving a can whilst spraying lethal vapour into the interior before quickly running out and closing the door behind me, leaving the poor creatures to their inevitable fate, (hoping against hope the spiders have found a place of safety). Every horizontal surface was soon littered with hundreds of prone corpses. Taking the curtains down to give them a much-needed wash, I discovered a layer of them an inch thick along the sills – together with a few curled up wasp bodies or the powdery wings of a moth amongst the carnage.
All evidence of my murderous intentions was either sucked up the nozzle of the hoover or brushed onto the grass outside the door where the dogs quickly hunted them out and did their own hoovering up job before I intervened, not wanting them to succumb to the same fate as the poor critters they were munching. The windows had their first proper clean in 3 years but the curtains didn’t fair so well, having been degraded by the sun, were completely shredded in the machine, even on a 30 degree cycle. No matter, they were soon replaced by some old pillow cases that proved perfect for the job. I even noticed the faded red letters: BATH HMC RUH, stamped on the corner of one of them which dates it to the time Graeme was in hospital, well over 30 years ago.
My studio is now restored to its former light-filled haven of peace and tranquility, free from the deafening drone of thousands of flies. Poor things, their only saving grace is that they are beautiful, even in death, in the same way that the iridescent colours of a peacock feather is beautiful, or a starling’s feather is beautiful when it catches the light and glows. Indeed, a wondrous quirk of nature. Not forgetting, they also do a pretty good clean-up act in the cycle of life and death…..perhaps I should throw a carcass into the field for them to feast on – as well as satisfying my own guilt?
“accidental into the enduring
” is a quote taken from part of a wonderful small article written by Margaret Drabble about Prunella Clough, (Spring, 2010 – Issue 18 – edition of Tate etc. magazine) and is such a succinct way of describing what most of us do as artists. In it she talks about how Clough took boxes of photographs as source material for her paintings in the 1950s and 1960s, views of ‘wasteland, signal boxes, wires, ropes, fences, walkways, traffic lights, poles and pylons
’, as the ‘….post-war dereliction began to merge with industrial decline
’. I love this idea of creating something that will live on well after the artist has died, and by immersing yourself with the studio paraphernalia: papers, letters, notes and sketches, that the artist used to create the artwork, you are communing with the ghost of that artist, as if she has cheated death. Artists are notorious collectors of objects and I am also a hoarder of ‘treasures’: driftwood, feathers, sticks, pebbles, dried leaves, a birds broken shell, the skull of a tiny rodent, my puppy’s first tooth, in fact anything that grabs my attention for whatever reason, be it textural, sculptural or intriguing for any reason. One cold Spring day, battling the icy winds on a coastal excursion with the dogs, I found the corpse of a beautiful, stripey fluffed-out bumble bee that I thought would make a fabulous addition to my ever-growing collection of precious bits and pieces, and cradling it carefully in my cupped hand, I carried it home. Before I reached the garden gate, however, the warmth of my hand had revived the small creature and it began to show vital signs of life. Reluctantly, but joyfully I released the furry creature to live another day.
It is often said that you can’t break the rules unless you know what those rules are in the first place. There is no substitute for a good grounding in ‘academic’ drawing, and no discipline is better than the life-drawing room, with portraiture an even more exacting practice. But the life room can be a daunting place for some. Anyone can set up a simple still life, and with the most rudimentary materials, have a go. It is a way of learning to see the world around us, and the more practiced you become at it, the more you will ‘notice’ how things really are. It’s about taking time to look, and I mean really look. For me it’s 90% looking and 10% action as once I’ve started, the initial stages get ‘mapped’ out very quickly. There is no substitute either for working directly in front of your subject, be it a still life, or an outdoor view, but many artists work from memory alone, concentrating instead on a personal experience or feelings about objects or a given place. Here are some things to consider: Notice how edges are defined: are they all in sharp focus, or are some edges blurred? Is the composition balanced or lop-sided? Is there a natural movement through the composition? What colours stand out? What is the overall ‘hue’ colour? How does each colour affect it’s neighbouring colour? Where are the high and low notes in tonal values? ‘Lamb’ is a quick drawing I did in situ, attracted by the contrast between the dark trees in the background seen through the enclosure fence.