St Ives 6/3

Yesterday was a sick day, today was a semi sick day, bleh. This meant no outdoor walking or drawing/painting!! Lame!! I am dying to get outside. I think tomorrow I will be well enough.

I was in the studio for a couple of hours today, painting little paintings, trying to find something to do that kept me in the warm where I could rest and not make myself more ill.

In the late morning Alexandra popped down and the three of us had a chat about what we’re thinking about and working on. I felt like I didn’t much have yet to show, which I don’t. Just lots of absorbing happening internally, I trust, rather than finished objects to show.

I did these three paintings today. Little 6×10″ oils on paper, all about St Nicholas Church on the headland of St Ives. The two on the left from memory, the one on the right from a photograph.

After a much needed nap I went and sat on a bench in the cemetery on the hill sloping down to Porthmeor Beach. I watched the sunset from there – the reddish-orange light hitting; the side of St Nicholas church, the headlands far into the distance going East, a single little white boat on the horizon, and hanging clouds in the sky. It felt good to be outside. Tomorrow I think I’ll go up to St Nicholas Church and paint.

I’ve got this idea in the back of my mind to paint on unstretched canvas. I’ve also got now some primed wooden boards I salvaged, and also some stretched canvases. I’ll have to give all of those a go over the coming days and weeks.

Sitting on the bench watching the golden hour I did some careful pencil drawings and some writing:

One big stage for drama to unfold
Of life and death
Its importance made clear in giving and taking.
I wonder what it must have been like,
for the sea
to contain so much power.
When the stage is your life and love
at play.

I can only look at the sea and wonder.
The sea is a pretty, charming thing to me.
I taste its power only at the edges of my play.

Is there a ‘right’ way to experience place?
I am repeatedly invalidating my experiences. In the writing above I wonder what it must be like to experience the landscape differently. I want to be more affected by it, as if I need a stake in a place to be qualified to paint it properly. As if I need the land to be capable of taking something away from me. That’s the difference, between me and the women of the past I wonder about in the above writing, who’s husbands worked out at sea. The land cannot take away from me very easily, I would need to put myself in danger. The systems of society keep me from danger quite well. If I cannot lose from the land, then by logic I cannot gain anything from it either.

I feel silly.
I should embrace who I am.

I think I should embrace that systems protect me land taking from me very easily. I am fed and warm and my loved ones safe from war or the sea, or famine etc. If that is where I am in my life now, then I must celebrate that and embrace it in my painting.

What is it like to paint a place that doesn’t hold material power over me? What is it like to paint a place that does not control my material comforts – the safety of my body and my loved ones. I say this all with the exception of floods, tsunamis, lighting… – Rare events compared to the dangers that would have controlled lives here in St Ives a few hundred years ago I imagine.

I do not worship the land because it does not hold much over me, at least that is the illusion we all live by. How do I paint land that I do not worship? How do I paint land that is separated from me by a web of systems that keep me and my loved ones from being taken?

I guess whatever I make is already that. I don’t need to try.

Secular land.

Is there a trend in history towards increasingly not worshipping land? I am reading the book Spirit of Place by Susan Owens. On page 24 she writes that “in 1018, King Cnut felt it necessary to enact laws against the worship of the sun and moon, of springs, stones and forest trees.” It was before Christianity that people “celebrated” the “powerful supernatural forces” in the land, amongst them. According to Owens this worship continued into the middle ages and it was “absorbed into Christian ritual”. I have not read further but my guess is that this worship of land decreases as the centuries go on. Today, I know of no worship of land, no acknowledgement of the animacy of land. I am born of a culture that has no worship of it. Could my art be a kind of worship? Do I want to worship land? I feel like I need to call David Abram out here to guide me.

The land as sensual.

“earthily sexual: aroused by some act of piety or violence, or my mere proximity to saints, the holy or the pure, the land suddenly gushes with liquid [(referring to a story of a saint in a 15th c. painting on the previous page)], opens up to reveal its wet interior, becomes soft to accommodate part of a saint’s body or simulates dead wood to burst into fecund life. This symbolism is pungently expressive of fertility and new growth, qualities more readily associated with pagan deities than ascetic Christain saints. Saints give the impression of being only partly human, with one foot in this world and the other in heaven; it is as though, to make a connection with them and express spiritual love, the landscape meets them halfway by developing some remarkably animalistic qualities of its own.”

P.26 Spirit of Place by Susan Owens

It is noteworthy that the two causes of animism in the land are piety and violence. As I was saying above, societies’ systems have made violence far, far less imminent, and science has stripped the need for religion. So we are left with neither reasons to see the land as animate. Really, it’s for good, understandable, very human reasons that the land is no longer animate. But that poses a threat because we are disrespecting the very land we are of.

It would be very interesting to speak to Granny about her experience of Grandad being away and facing the sea everyday, missing him I guess.

Or do I worship land in a new way today? I may not be in as much danger from the land, but I worship it aesthetically now perhaps? In Spirit of Place Owens mentions how the mountains didn’t use to mean anything to people. I travel for hours to visit a certain mountain or beach, to soak in the views. I am planning to spend hundreds of pounds to walk through land. I get cold finishing a painting of some rocks. I have devoted years of my life to depicting the landscape, choosing to do that over any other more lucrative and easy career. Is this worship, of a different kind?

To answer these questions I need to understand what worship is. I need to understand what stakes there must be for worship to be meaningful, if any. Where would I find this information?

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