12 days of Severnside – a song for Christmas, an anti-plastic festive song

As I peeped out to make sure the Severn was flowing by as it should be today, as it does every day, I considered how much time I spend down on its banks. Counting days. Taking photos, writing, dreaming, watching the bore. And what I had seen come in on the tide as I watch it.

I was also considering how every public space is filling up with Christmas festivity and songs. The hard sell is arriving as sharply as the freezing frosts. And how I am selling my new book Severnside: An Artist’s View Of The River Severn as Christmas presents, taking me a bit out of my comfort zone.

The Severn has always provided a place for me to retreat to, to avoid the everyday hustle and bustle and looking at screens. I’m in a local choir (but having a break now while sorting out the book) and love singing songs about the River Severn. I am also acutely aware that in my book there is only ONE word that raised questions from proof readers. An angry word, a foul word, used to refer to the plastic that is constantly washed in on the tide. And, in my usual playful way, I began to write a song in my head. In all fairness, not writing a song, but changing the words of a familiar one we all know. So here it is:

The 12 Days of Severnside Song

On the 1st day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
A branch from a very small tree

On the 2nd day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 3rd day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 4th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 5th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 6th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 7th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Seven dogs a-swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 8th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Eight sailors sailing
Seven dogs a swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 9th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Nine bottles bobbing
Eight sailors sailing
Seven dogs a swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 10th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Ten herons standing
Nine bottles bobbing
Eight sailors sailing
Seven dogs a swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 11th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Eleven elvers swimming
Ten herons standing
Nine bottles bobbing
Eight sailors sailing
Seven dogs a swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

On the 12th day at Severnside
The tide brought in for me
Twelve months of wonder
Eleven elvers swimming
Ten herons standing
Nine bottles bobbing
Eight sailors sailing
Seven dogs a swimming
Six surfers surfing
Five plastic bags!
Four diving ducks
Three crab claws
Two bouncy balls
And a branch from a very small tree

 

sunspots in my eyes, sunrise over the Severn

I’m on the banks of the Severn, just before sunrise. I know it’s coming very soon, as above the Cotswold skyline there is a small row of eight or nine clouds just above the horizon. They look like fragments of torn paper, maybe from a to-do list, all of similar width and height, separated by tiny bits of sky. They are up-lit by the sun below and as it rises it frames them with a subtle, red, glowing edge. Each piece becomes more vividly defined before the power of the sun overcomes my retina’s and the tiny clouds fade away in the glare.

I’m standing precisely opposite this imminent sunrise and the wildlife around the river is responding to it’s arrival too. Crows and gulls spiral above my head, calling, whilst on the watery stage characters enter from both left and right. On my left, a sole duck floats silently towards the centre of the stage, anticipating the arrival of it’s spotlight. It is a little early really, but that’s fine, it will learn.

On my right three ducks slip out from behind the cliff, chattering together.

Above my head, the world of business is approaching another Monday morning. Transatlantic planes fly toward the sun, European ones too, but lower in the sky. None of them are much more than tiny white arrows high above, leaving chalky tails in the pale blue sky. I wonder, when we have gone through Brexit, will this lessen? Will the sky become hauntingly quiet, as it did in 2010 when the volcanic Icelandic dust forced the closure of the UK airspace?

I think about M.C. Escher’s patterns of black and white birds. Today the sky is like that, the white ‘birds’ are planes, the black one’s are crows and gulls. The scale changes, as it does in his drawings, those flying lowest are closer, more vivid, those in the distance more abstract and vague. I recall Norman Ackroyd and Robert McFarlane discussing the white birds in Ackroyd’s paintings, on Radio 4 last week. How the little egret is now the whitest bird we see on our rivers. There are none here today, sadly. They will have flown off with the herons earlier, before the tide rolled in.

As I absorb all these activities, a circle of ripples appears in the water. A number of other concentric rings roll up out of the water, then disappear. They are moving closer to centre stage, they know that, very soon, the sun will rise in full glory. The lone duck is now joined by two other pairs, all moving determinedly towards the golden rippled area that is appearing on the surface of the water. The fish underwater do the same.

The shimmering lines of light come closer to me, creeping over the lapping tidal waves as the sea flows upriver, as it always does, on the Severn.

We reach the crescendo, the great ball of fire rises up and the ducks are silhouetted by its brightness, bobbing about on the highlights of the folds in the water. I stare in wonder at this red mass and take a deep breath – the day has begun. I turn away to walk home and see vibrant acid green sunspots peppering the ground. I watch them as I move back up to the path. As I walk up the street I notice they are now red blurs.

Eyes are amazing, complimentary colours vying for attention, just as the skyborn objects were, the fish in the water, the ducks on the waves.

All mere sunspots in my eyes.

 

 

 

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The Solitary Figure in the Landscape – a contemporary approach to purveying the sublime – in 360 degrees.

During the past year I have drawn around fifteen large (approx. 1 metre wide), landscapes of the River Severn. All done using charcoal on paper, most recently, using locally sourced charcoal made from coppiced wood by Resilient Woodlands.

Only the last drawing I did in the set featured a human figure in it, gazing at the river. It was a decision that has affected the way I have approached a new body of works, using a 360 degree camera (still and video) to continue exploring the Severn. I’m now intrigued to see where it might take me, because it is a huge turning point that has sent me back to consider early paintings of figures in landscapes. Constable, Friedrich, Gainsborough – they all investigated human presence in sublime vistas. Until it went out of fashion.

fullsizeoutput_86bLandscape has always fascinated me and featured in many artworks over several years. For the last eighteen years I have been commissioning artists to work in ‘unusual places’, which has included woodlands, headlands, beaches and barns, so it is no surprise to find that I immediately immersed myself in landscapes again when I returned to practice last year.

All those years of reading, thinking and understanding how artists respond to landscape have come together and are, finally, very useful. Good to know that all that energy has not been wasted.

The introduction of ‘contemplative watchers’ was, and still is, an effective device for showing how aesthetic experience can be focused on the observing subject. My enquiry really began when I moved to the Forest of Dean, after leaving a very familiar landscape I’d known for twenty-five years, on the other bank of the Severn. I took many photographs of trees that were struggling to retain their vertical, growing on hillsides. They were very personal symbols of how hard it is, sometimes, to survive in a new landscape and find one’s roots.  I was not in the images, but the trees represented me and my instability. I reframed them, making them stand up, whilst all around them looked squiffy, horizons tipped, pylon leaning. I survived and gradually learnt to live in this new place.

A photographic project done through a collaboration with Dr. Suze Adams in 2009 again involved framing the figure in the landscape, but this time it was done by photographing each other. So, I continued to be absent in my own photographs, yet appeared in her pictures. We time synchronised the images and compared them. This was the first work that looked at the river from the other side.

Seven years later, the new drawings have evolved. As a body of work, they show numerous pinch-points in the river, opposite each other. There’s a set of poems and narratives that work with them. All in progress.

Most recently, I’ve been learning how to use a 360 degree camera. Between the late 1990’s and around 2005 I was making large video installations – moving image was my favoured medium, as was digital media. Using this new camera for both stills and videos has re-nurtured my love of how technology can offer new ways of understanding. The last drawing, with the figure in it (not of me, but an old friend who was with me), has lingered in my mind and manifested itself in a recent set of images.

Memory of the other side of the river also plays a part in this. The friend that was in the drawing was someone I spent many hours walking our dogs on the riverbank at Shepperdine, when our children were small. Much of the drawing project has been about coming to terms with moving from the east bank to the west. It is all very autobiographical.

When using a 360 camera, the first thing one has to get ones head around is the fact that, when shooting, where you, the operator stands, is key. Because it will catch you and you will appear in every image, unless you hide. Consequently, I’ve bene hiding behind cars, bushes and huts. If I don’t I am clumsily in the ‘tiny planet’. So, one foggy morning, I decided to work with this. In a fundraising film I made, I found being filmed gazing at the river was more comfortable for me than talking directly to camera. I began to pose with my back to the camera, allowing me to control the camera remotely but hiding it from the lens. The fog helped, and took me back to some early films I made in Iceland at thermal pools, and another done in a steam room in a hotel in Birmingham. I immediately recalled the famous painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818),  by Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

This thinking process has made me reconsider Friedrich and wonder what this means now, in the 21st Century, when technology is said to be rapidly replacing humans in the workforce and the economic structure of capitalism is facing challenges to its viability. Those who wish to conserve landscape find themselves battling against technology, yet are also learning far more about it too, by using scanning processes that were unimaginable in the 19th Century. Both we, and our rapid technological developments, might be threatening the landscape we inhabit.

Is my gazing into the river my time-machine, allowing me to long for the past, which can never be revived? Or is it letting me reflect and meditate on the future of place, the river in particular?  Is the very landscape that we have traditionally painted, now little more than a romantic notion? Are we too late?

Screenshot 2018-01-13 11.40.50Several of the images I have taken depict large Georgian Mansions – representing landownership. My daughter is currently making films about food sovereignty, the urgent need to care for the land, and what we produce on it. Maybe her work has leached into my thinking too?

I need to look back at theory, reconsider the sublime, and its place in today’s thinking. I shall continue to do this visually, using the tools I have to hand. It’s important we all remember that we are in the landscape at all times and it is integral to our existence. And we are to it, too.

brightlands fog me

 

 

 

exploring 360 filming with Theta 6, all about the river

I’m trying to get my head around this wonderful camera and what it can do. This is my first footage, made this morning in the snow. I did a lot of stills, which are wonderful, but this is the only video I did. Would love feedback – it’s raw, unedited footage, and clunky….but rather beautiful.

thank you too Google Street View for the loan of the camera.

WINTER WALK BY THE SEVERN VIDEO

view a 360degree version of one of these here

and here are some stills, (c) carolyn black

drawing of Newnham Church & The Severn to be auctioned, to raise funds for bell repairs

NEWNHAM CHURCH TO ARLINGHAM – DOES THIS LOOK FAMILIAR TO YOU?

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Maybe it’s because you’ve seen the original photo on the Bells Appeal Website. I took it for the appeal a year or so ago. This year, as part of a wider project, I decided to do a 2-metre wide drawing, inspired by the photo, which I am now donating to the appeal for auction. We’re not sure how or when yet, any suggestions are welcome. Maybe we could do an auction of artworks by other Newnham artists? Or an auction of promises?

Limited edition (25) prints are available – 30% of all print sales will also go to the appeal. Talk to me if you have any ideas about how to proceed with the auction, or want to make an offer we can’t refuse –  all money raised from the drawing goes to the appeal.

I love Newnham – the River Severn and the Church Bells are integral to life in the village.

 

River Time is Different in Newnham, words & video prove it!

So this morning I could hear geese chuntering away down on the Severn, while I was still in bed. I leapt out and grabbed some clothes and went down to see them….I was more than rewarded with a wonderful sunrise, thoght the geese had flown up-river. Here’s a short powm I worte, and a video to prove that time is truly different in my part of the world! (turn the video sound up loud!)

River Time is Different

The geese call

I run down

To the river

 

To see, too late

 

Now out of sight

I hear them

A honking, jeering

 

Rowdy cacophony

 

The racing river

Seems to pause

When a leaf falls then

 

Floats away to sea

 

The church bells

Ring out the hours

I know this moment

 

Then the clock bells

 

Ring out

River time

Is different

 

In Newnham

 

The Film

 

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