Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A wild night

The artist Lachlan Goudie in front of one of his father's paintings (image from here)
Today, tonight is Halloween, and while I have never had time for the commercialised festivity enjoyed by children and party animals, I always remember Robert Burns' epic poem Tam O'Shanter when talk of witches comes round.
I much enjoy Alexander Goudie's paintings illustrating the poem - he painted a great number of them, but truth be told, I rather like conjuring up the images in my own imagination. 
T. Dunwell: Scene from Tam O'Shanter (image from here)
So much is memorable from the poem, but the phrase which remains firmly with me is the description of Tam's wife Kate: "nursing her wrath to keep it warm".  Glorious to the ears of this curmudgeon!

Tam o’ Shanter  (you can hear it here, and here is a translation into standard English)

When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors, neebors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
An’ folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
And getting fou and unco’ happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps and styles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Whare sits our sulky sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest Tam o’ Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
(Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses.)
O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She taul thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober;

That ilka melder, wi’ the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That every naig was ca’d a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
That at the L—d’s house, even on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou would be found deep drown’d in Doon;
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen’d sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!

But to our tale: Ae market-night,
Tam had got planted unco right;
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi’ reaming swats, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
Tam lo’ed him like a vera brither;
The had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs and clatter;
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
Wi’ favours, secret, sweet, and precious:
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:
The storm without might rair and rustle,
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E’en drown’d himsel amang the nappy:
As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,
The minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure;
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white—then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.—
Nae man can tether time or tide;
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in,
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

The wind blew as ’twad blawn its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand.

Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glowring round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares:
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.—

By this time he was cross the ford,
Whare, in the snaw, the chapman smoor’d;
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Whare drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;
And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
Whare hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel.—
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
Near and more near the thunders roll:
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze;
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing;
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.—

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!—
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance;
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.—
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantraip slight
Each in its cauld hand held a light.—
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted;
Five scymitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter, which a babe had strangled;
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son o’ life bereft,
The grey hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awefu’,
Which even to name wad be unlawfu’.

As Tammie glow’rd, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
The piper loud and louder blew;
The dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!

Now, Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans,
A’ plump and strapping in their teens,
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linnen!
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ gude blue hair,
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies!

But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Lowping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

But Tam kend what was what fu’ brawlie,
There was ae winsome wench and wawlie,
That night enlisted in the core,
(Lang after kend on Carrick shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish’d mony a bony boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear:)
Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.—
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
Wi’ twa pund Scots, (’twas a’ her riches),
Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches!

But here my Muse her wing maun cour;
Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r;
To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was, and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d;
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
And hotch’d an blew wi’ might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out, ‘Weel done, Cutty-sark!’
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied.
When out the hellish legion sallied.

As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open pussie’s mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When ‘Catch the thief!’ resounds aloud;
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
Wi’ mony an eldritch skreech and hollow.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin!
In hell they’ll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle—
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain gray tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
Ilk man and mother’s son, take heed:
Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn colour

The clocks are about to go back, and today there is a wee bit more chill in the air.  We are now well into the season of colour: Autumn.  Strolling through the ArtUk site I was reminded of the artist W.G. Gillies.  Here are some of his Autumn trees:
Woodland Landscape (Trees and Sky) (image from here)
Woodland Path (image from here)
Woodland Landscape (Trees with River and Pathway) (image from here
Autumn Landscape with Trees (image from here)
The River and Beech Trees, Temple Woods (image from here)
Brown and Grey Landscape, Pentland Hills (image from here)

And of course the chills of Autumn lead to enjoying cosy days indoors:
Still Life with Scattered Fruit and Grasses (image from here)
Still Life with Wine Glasses and Apples (image from here)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Everything for a place

I am working steadily hand quilting a large piece.  It is big and slippery enough that I need the support of a table, and the autumn light has been dull enough that I prefer a north-facing window at which to work.  So, the work is proceeding in the sewing room.  So far, so good.
In the evenings, however, and if I have chores to do, I will not be in the sewing room.  Yet, I need to have something to hand for the in between times - especially when it is not possible to turn my mind to reading.  The solution is to have a steady stream of small stitch pieces on which to work.
Yesterday I finalised the digital work on Jazz flute, which was started some months ago, printed it onto cotton lawn, and in the evening started to stitch.
I also finalised the digital work on Ginkgo rider, the origins of which go back several years.  It just needs printing onto cotton now, which I shall do later today.  In this piece a lot of the colour will be added with the thread used to stitch.
I have written a post on my work blog describing the development of the designs.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A bonus exhibition

I met a friend yesterday.  We had not seen each other for years, and we talked for hours, and in between we popped into an exhibition, Radical Craft to which I must admit I paid scant attention.  Well, only enough attention to have the work of two artists catch my eye.
First were three stiffened lace houses by Marie-Rose Lortet - image above from here.
And second was a piece of stained glass by Pinkie Maclure - image from her website.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Signs of excitement

Alan Davie: Woodpecker's Choice (image from here)
I have nothing to write about my work at present - not that I am not working.  Stitch, stitch, stitch.  However, in the cracks of time between doing I keep going back to the ArtUk site to poke my memory.
Alan Davie: Diptych for a Tame Spider (image from here)
In the late 60s I was fortunate to spend several afternoons in the Richard Demarco gallery, and to meet various artists.  Sometimes those artists were kind enough to spend time talking with me about their work - or just generally chatting.  One such was Alan Davie.
Alan Davie: Wheels for the Sweet Life (image from here)
His work to me was an explosion of seductive chaos - compelling, exciting, demanding, yet strangely familiar, friendly.  The symbols - exuberant, colourful, irrepressible signs jazzed up my thinking.  Yet he treated me as an equal.  Such an invaluable encounter.
Alan Davie: Playing Card Adventure No.4 (image from here)
I cannot remember the individual paintings which were in that exhibition, but from the ArtUk page I have chosen those of the right dates.  Here is the Tate Gallery's obituary - his death coincided with a display of their works of his.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Poached eggs and other savoured memories

Diego Velazquez: An old woman cooking eggs (image from here)
I had been exposed to a wide variety of visual art from my earliest years, but I was over 11 years old before I entered an institutional art gallery.  My first visit was to the Scottish National Gallery with my secondary school in Edinburgh.  I subsequently visited many times after that, both with the school, but mostly alone.  The year I took History of Art as part of my degree (still in Edinburgh) I was there at least once a week.
Several of the paintings there remain prominently in my head and in my heart, but my favourite of all is the Velazquez above.  I find it a complete stunner that never shuts down my curiosity.  It presents the possible beginning, or middle, or maybe even the end of many stories.  The skill of course is breath-taking.  And I love that my grandmother's mortar and pestle are there right at the front.  I remember as a small child battering the shape out of walnuts using those heavy brass instruments that I was barely able to lift!
Inevitably one of my other favourites is the now widely known The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch (perhaps) by Raeburn(image above from here)
Daniel Macnee: A lady in grey (the artist's daughter)
And a much less well known lady whom I used to greet on every visit: A Lady in Grey.  This again had a personal connection because it was unusual to have a portrait showing a young woman engaged in an occupation which dominated my leisure hours: hand stitching.
Paul Gauguin: Vision of the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel)
In my teenage years I was obsessed by all things French (none of my family knew anything about France or the French, so my interest was left well alone), and so inevitably I was drawn by the strikingly dramatic Gauguin - indeed the whole painting cried out to me before I knew who had made it.  (If you scroll down the page linked under the image above you will find a short film which chimes very much with my own youthful experience - strangely enough we were reading The moon and sixpence at school around the time of my first visits to the gallery.)
Edgar Degas: Woman Drying Herself
The other French painting which stays with me from those early days is a Degas pastel.  I had loved both the realism and the looseness, the chalkiness of the pastel as well as its subtle colour - without at that point knowing anything about the material.  Later, during my art history studies the tutor who specialised in Post Impressionism told us that this work had had the glass cleaned so assiduously that the pastel had now transferred from the paper to the glass!  I do not know whether this is really true.*  And I don't know whether my curiosity about and my love of soft pastels came from this work and the story.

Of course I discovered many other delights in the collection, and during the intensive art history visits learned so much about them all - a sweet consolation for not being permitted to study to be an artist myself - but these five works in particular have a special place in my memory.  Over the decades ever since then I have continued to look, to discover, to pursue my curiosity, to research not only the art that appeals, but also the art that does not appeal.  I believe that finding out why something does not capture one's delight can illuminate and develop one's looking and understanding.
I must admit to doing a bit less of the latter now.  I seem to have reached a point when - with some exceptions - I want to save my art curiosity for delving deeper into the realms that I already enjoy.  Nowadays that seems to feed my own work much more, and I save my wider curiosity for other subjects such as Roman architecture, satellite mapping of the oceans, and geology (all current or imminent FutureLearn courses).

*I don't think it can be true because the implication in 1967 was that years of cleaning had lifted the pastel off the paper, and yet I now see that the work was only donated to the gallery in 1960.  I must have seen it first not long after that gift took place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Today I have been wandering through the ArtUk site, gazing at the wealth of content, working from the artists.  These are paintings in public collections in the UK, and can be seen - well, not all are actually on display, but the theory is that by contacting the institution a viewing can be arranged.
Anne Redpath: Terraced fields, Gran Canaria (image from here)
I wanted to reacquaint myself with old favourites, as for example Anne Redpath.
Anne Redpath: Landscape at Kyleakin (image from here)
I love her use of colour; three of the paintings in the public collections particularly catching my attention today.  I was taken with the transition from the deep reds of Gran Canaria through the reds, greys, and whites of Kyleakin to the whites and greys with scant but essential red of the still life below.
Anne Redpath: Grey Still Life, The Venetian Blind (image from here)
How wondrous to include a venetian blind!  I cannot off the top of my head think of another still life with such dynamic horizontals, translucent, arising from what might otherwise be thought a boring object.  Doubly delightful after having seen this image for the first time is the discovery that it is held in the collection of the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria - a favourite destination of ours when we are up in the North West of England, or on our way to Scotland.  So I hope to be able to see the painting for real some day.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Excellent timing

My bedtime reading at present is SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard.  I am enjoying this, reading it slowly to chew over all the information.  As described in this review, the book is engaging - but I was delighted to find a FutureLearn course covering the development of Rome from Dr Matthew Nicholls of Reading University Classics department
(image above from here)
The course started today, and it is quite a revelation.  These free online courses are amazing.  I have thoroughly enjoyed most of the ones I have pursued.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Tree cutting theatre

The renovation cycle has turned, and amongst other jobs which are being and to be done, tree cutting was added.  (A sub-clause of the jammy piece principle - if dropped, a jammy piece will fall jammy side down - is that if great sums of money are being paid out, another large expense will force its way up the queue.)  The poplar had grown so high that were it so to fall, it would smash my sewing room.  A drastic crown reduction was called for.
The rule, just as in cutting fabric, is look and discuss at length before beginning the climb - especially as the tree grows between an electricity wire and a public path to a primary school.
A twice-extended ladder forms the foothills of the ascent, which reaches the topmost branches in order to secure the rope.
Then, with the rope in place, the descent to the cutting can begin.
And with the cut line established after a few hours, the cutting for the day more or less ends (a less experienced guy is given the opportunity in the afternoon to climb up and experience cutting at the great height !).  Clearing - the much longer job - begins.
On the two subsequent days the experienced climber and cutter gradually works his way across the tree.  Although there is much crashing of falling timber, the job on the whole is remarkably elegantly and skillfully done. 

Another less experienced guy gets the opportunity ! to climb up to cut the final bit of branch and retrieve the rope.
All was busyness and noise for four days, and then on the fifth the fence was mended (a couple of pieces of tree didn't miss it), and now all is quiet.  And we are discovering how agile the squirrels are.  Discombobulated at first because their electricity super highway was previously brushed by branches.  Now they really have to l e a p!  And they do.
And we have a greatly augmented wood pile - not to mention having an entertaining spectacle to compensate for the lack of work that I achieved.