Thursday, July 22, 2010

Purple shadows in the rain. Kindness.

Rembrandt van Rijn; self portrait.

I remember painting in the rain. I was in Te Kuiti, more than 30 years ago, and I had my easel set up near the river near some sycamore trees. The rain was little more than a fine drizzle, but it was persistent. Not really painting weather, but I had discovered that I could do oil paintings in the rain if I painted on hardboard (masonite) that had been given some coats of Hyplar Gesso. This was an acrylic based primer that had a good "tooth" and was so abrasive that it would almost visibly wear my hog hair brushes as I painted. The good thing about it was that oil paint would stick to it, even if the surface was running wet with rain water.

Why was I painting in the rain? The answer was that I had noticed the shadow colour that I saw on the trunks of the sycamore trees. I had read a lot over the years about impressionist paintings, and had been told that impressionists often painted their shadows a purple colour, but I had rarely seen purple shadows in nature. That rainy day in Te Kuiti I saw purple shadows on the trunks of the sycamore trees.

The place that I was painting was not particularly nice, in fact I was standing rather close to a sinister green metal structure that must have been a part of the town sewer system, and from this something odoriferous and unpleasant hung in the air at intervals. Not that smell would be apparent on the painting, thank goodness, but the scene was a very ordinary one. A small, muddy river, some weary trees, and the tired green river banks.

Once I started painting what was there in front of me, I became aware of the beauty of the place. The rain made the colours silvery, and I found that there were subtle grayed shades of the reddish purple that I had seen first on the sycamore trunks in other areas of shadow.

I did not paint a particularly good painting that day, but the experience helped me to see. I also witnessed a little miracle, one of the transformation of something apparently dreary, drippy, and even a little unpleasant, into something that had a beauty. This is a gift that art brings us, and it is worth being reminded of and treasuring.

I am not talking about the sort of art that has "rose coloured spectacles", the sort of art that makes things pretty..., that sort of art pretends that something is different from what it is!

I am advocating something deeper. That place where art reaches out and meets Life. It is a place of complete honesty. It may be found in great music, painting, literature, or in a humble pot that can be held in the hand. Sometimes children have this quality.

Rembrant painted self portraits throughout his life, and his face was like a mirror of his life. There is the young man, full of fun, and pulling faces. Here he is with love and early success. Now he is middle aged, strong and accomplished. And here he is at 63, old now, with face sagging, eyes surrounded by folds and wrinkles, and such a look in his eyes. Have a look at National Gallery UK Rembrandt. and here for self portraits in chronological order.

Rembrandt's later self portraits looked into his soul, with honesty. They said, "this is who I am".

Last Bus Home!
I didn't expect to write all of the above, but I will keep it, because it puts into words something I believe is important. Something that sits beside me as I pot, write, or paint.

I am not all that well at the moment (which might account for my verbal meanderings). For the whole of this week, I neglected to do anything about feeling dreadful and having a painful sore throat (there just wasn't time!!). A visit to the doctor on Friday confirms that I have what is almost certainly a Strep infection, and I started 10 days antibiotics yesterday, and have been told to rest. I did actually spend this morning in bed, which makes a change.

Anyway, earlier this week I struggled through the process of getting my passport renewal application done, and got into town on the bus on Wednesday and sent it away. For some reason, getting a British passport renewed in NZ now costs NZ$340, where as in the UK it would cost 77.50 pounds or NZ$165. The process can only be done through Postshops in NZ, and not direct with the British Consulate.

The process of filling in the forms and getting my photo taken made me quite miserable, I was not well after all, but... it was then that I started to experience something good. The staff at the PostShop were so understanding and helpful as they checked through my application with me. I am full of admiration for them, because PostShops here are notoriously busy and understaffed and must be very stressful to work in, but they treated me with kindness, patience, and humour. I am very grateful.

That same afternoon I missed my first bus home from Dunedin, and went into Chrome cafe for a sit down and some refreshment. Two elderly ladies walked in ahead of me, and a young Asian couple followed me through the door. As I reached the counter, I quietly asked the lady working there what time they shut, it being nearly 4pm, I suspected it must be soon and I did not want to delay her being able to close for the day. "In 5 minutes", she softly replied "but I usually don't get away before 4.30, so it's OK!" She smiled at me with a tired face that lit up, and kind eyes, and brought me my coffee and a huge warm date scone with 4 knobs of butter. "You don't have to hurry", she said.

After I left the cafe I saw that the last of the sun was lighting up the top of a water feature in the City Center, and transforming the thin curtain of water, into something that looked woven. I took photos.

I saw a building reflected like flowing butter in the water. More photos.

Evening sky behind city buildings. More photos.

I got the last bus home.

Last weekend Bill Campbell visited to pick up some photos that we had taken for him for the East Otago Review that he runs, and I ended up being interviewed about the exhibition in NC. I sent him a press release with more detail about it by Sunday lunchtime, and he managed to get a story published in Monday's Otago Daily Times (the Dunedin paper) with a large photo of myself.., and a somewhat embarrassing title "Blog secures US invitation".

I try to explain that my taking part in the exhibition is really the result of relationships I have built up through the blog, but since the article went in, I have received phone calls, cards, a cheque for $50, and good wishes from people who are proud that someone from Waikouaiti, NZ will be off to North Carolina to take part in the Clay and Blogs exhibition. People are really excited about it here! So, when I come, I will do so representing this beautiful part of New Zealand, which is a huge privilege.

Just Me...
As to who's coming. I think it will just have to be me this time. The cost is certainly part of that consideration, but there are other practicalities. We have a gallery here, and various commitments that make it hard to get away.

PS. Please ignore the date on this post, it is actually Saturday 24 July today.


Anonymous said...

What a BEAUTIFUL Blog Peter!
It reveals a lot about who you are, and will certainly make others think about who they are too!
Please don't give up on Laura going yet... Where there's a will, there's a way!

Peter said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. Regarding Laura, we'll have to see....!

Angie said...

I am sorry to hear you are unwell but now, with antibiotics, you should be on the mend.
Great blog ....found the portraits interesing ...watching him age.I was also fasinated by your colour observations. Your water photos were beautiful too ...some of the patterns might be able to be re created on pots ???

Last but certainly not least ....that great article....Yeah you are famous.Its a shame Laura cant go with you and share the enjoyment of the occaision but you both have your sensible/practlcal heads on over it all.

Take Care xx

Hannah said...

Great article Peter. I hope you are feeling brighter soon. Look after yourself in the meantime.

cookingwithgas said...

Hi Peter- I love that you are coming and all the fuss ,well, it is deserved.
And the fact that folks are willing to help- great news!
It will be so nice to meet you in person.

Peter said...

Hello Angie,
Pills and potions are working. Throat not nearly so sore today, thank goodness, but still some way to go until I am right again. I am like a teenager spending all my time in bed!!

The patterns of the water and the texture of it could well inspire some new work. Doing the crystalline glazes has made me more aware of the way that glaze is like water, frozen or runny!

Hello Hannah,
Nice to hear from you. Sun's out today, and a lovely blue sky, so that will help make me brighter too!

Hi Meredith,
Lovely to hear from you. I have been feeling a bit embarrassed about all the attention, I really don't deserve it. People have been so kind. They will travel with me in my thoughts.

cindy shake said...

Congratulations Peter! Beautiful photos too :o) so glad you are on the mend -strep can be so painful. I love reading your Blog and so happy you will be coming to the U.S.

Peter said...

Hi Cindy,
Thank you for that. Wish the strep had left me alone, there is sooo much I should be doing before heading over seas. Looking forward to meeting up with as many of you as I can, it will be really special.

jim said...

hi peter, love the whole section about painting and painting in the rain no less. as it turns out i've come to realize over the years that real painters actually can see better and more than the rest of us. their world is all about the examination of light. my good friend who painstakingly taught himself to use the classic palette of rembrandt and others insists that shadows are always the "gray" version of the complimentary color (hence the name) so that a red apple's shadow will be a dark gray or even black but the gray and black will actually be made of green. there are other subtleties that i love to hear him talk about but some of it escapes me. i know he says you can take something from warm to cool but not cool to warm or... vice versa. of course a painter can do as he pleases but he's specifically speaking of the old masters' methods using umber and sienna, etc. love the ramblings though. hope you are on the mend soon.

Peter said...

Hi Jim,
Thank you so much for your comment. Glad you enjoyed my feverish ramble! One of the things that has given me most joy in my life has been learning to "see" through learning to paint. A better appreciation of colour is one obvious benefit of doing some painting, but an appreciation of form and line happens too. Looking at every day things, such as the used breakfast things still to be tidied off the table, can become a source of pleasure. There are discoveries to be made... look at the shadows, shapes, colours, and reflections in the cups, bowls, and boxes!

Learning to make pots has similar benefits, and delights. I found that all the cups and plates and bowls that I took for granted as a non potter, became full of life and interest as soon as I started making my own. Going out for coffee somewhere was an adventure, as it was an opportunity to study the weight and balance of a cup, and the shape and position of the handle... and the negative space that the handle made!

Armelle said...

Yes Peter, great post from a painter !!! I agree with "That place where art reaches out and meets Life. It is a place of complete honesty."
So, if one day, you come here, at Belle-ile-en-mer, you will see the shadows of the algae under the sea............they have purple colors..........:-)
Wish you better health !!!

Jewels said...

Hello Peter - enjoyed your post! I am excited there is a chance we will meet you here in Arkansas (though I will miss meeting Laura)! Please take good care of yourself and get well soon!

Peter said...

Bonjour Armelle,
One day we must visit you and see the purple shadows of the algae under the sea. How wonderful!

I still recall looking out to sea from the Island of Iona, on the Western side of Scotland. The sea was green, blue, and purple. It was very beautiful. I was 15 years old when I visited Iona, and I can still "see" the sea.

Hello Jewels,
It is sad that Laura will probably not be coming this time, but it will be so good to meet you and see some of you beautiful country. (Please tell all the snakes, coyotes, and man eating spiders that I will not make an appetizing dinner!) Please look after yourself too! Lots of healing sunshine, peace, and rest.

Nigella Stopit waves a sleepy paw to you and to Armelle!

Danny Holland said...

Hi Peter

Great news about your trip to the US! I hope you feel better soon.

Peter said...

Good to hear from you! Hope you are enjoying the lovely sunny day in this part of the world. Congratulations on starting a blog, I'd love to put a link to it from mine if that's OK with you? It is nice to have other blogging potters in NZ, we seem to be a bit of a rare species here!
Best Wishes,