Today’s paintings – ‘View from Achnahaird Sand Dune’ and a bit more work on ‘Liceasto, Harris’.
Maps showing Liceasto on Harris, and Achnahaird on the Coigach coast…
I’m thinking that this subject lends itself to etching though it’s been years since I experimented with that process (image below – my first etching from art college days). I’ll enroll myself on a few classes at Edinburgh’s excellent Printmaker’s Workshop to brush up my skills.
Also, Louise and I were very drawn to the quality of light against rusts and blacks of the landscape, so I might etch on a copper plate, then once I’ve printed from them I’ll use the original plates as part of sculptural works. These might work for the proposal for a funding opportunity that’s come up (organised by An Lanntair, contemporary gallery in Stornaway and Glasgow School of Art) which we’ll apply for alongside various other funding opportunities.
Soon I’ll post some of Louise’s poems. I’ve read one already and it’s beautiful, it seems to glow with colours and atmosphere of the Lewis and Harris landscape.
I’m also working on a small series of our visit to Achiltibuie, but in the meantime I’m awaiting delivery of some lovely new paints to play with!
I’ll continue this series of blog posts under the general title of ‘Hebrides – day 6’ etc, until we decide on a title for our project (a collaboration between myself, poet Louise Palfreyman and cellist/compser Atzi Muramatsu).
It’s in early stages at the moment, but we hope to raise funds for a longer stay in the Hebrides, on Lewis and Harris particularly.
Louise and I will continue to work closely, sharing ideas as we develop paintings and poems began on our journey, which we’ll blog and share every week or so with a round up of the work produced as we go.
Today I’ve been sifting through the hundreds of photos, sketches and videos from our journey. Looking through photos of Harris confirms what we felt while staying there – it’s a magical place (which I managed to blog about despite the frustrating on/off internet connection! Link to post Here)
I described it as ‘Marshwiggle territory’ which may have flummoxed those unfamiliar with the Narnia Chronicles, for whom I include this excellent illustration on the right, by Pauline Baynes.
More photos of Harris..
I’ll also be editing a video this week which will hopefully capture the magic and inspiration of our trip, also our paintings, poems and music.
As mentioned in my blog post about Lewis and Harris, we met with poet Ian Stephen in Stornaway last week. One of the poems he recited for us came to mind today while I thought of the silvery moonscape vistas of Harris, with red berries of rowan trees growing alongside its sea lochs.
Ian’s poem echoes the gentleness we felt there, the sense that you can open heart and imagination to the atmosphere…
Should we plant a rowan here
at the sea-loch side?
in this day
when leaves mould
and stars die
A hawthorn for healing,
spur and leaf balm.
the pair of us
and for us all.
Patchy internet, hence intermittent blog posts again.
I’ll catch up on all our events on return to Edinburgh, but suffice to say the creative energy is growing apace, especially through conversations with Louise (Louise Palfreyman, poet and writer I’m collaborating with on this project). This is our second day on Skye, near Talisker Bay. We’re mutually enthusing on our surroundings – colours, light, water, peat, stones and stories…
I’ll be putting together a video of our paintings, poetry,recordings and writings and so on, in the next week or so.
In the meantime, a couple of sketches from yesterday, above, and today on and around Talisker Bay…
No internet signal yesterday, hence no blog post!
Louise and I stayed overnight in Lickisto (north of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris) an extraordinary moonscape-like coastline (which our host told us was the setting for ‘2000 A Space Odyssey’) an otherwordly, peaty landscape carpeted in spongy sphagnum moss, strewn with ‘incidentals’ – boulders randomly dispersed thousands of years ago as glaciers melted and receded.
Our yurt was one of several dotted amongst the marshland rushes, each having a little stove with smoke drifting into the low clouds. I was reminded of marshwiggle country, the feel of utter peace and remoteness. Utterly magical.
This followed on from our meeting in Stornaway earlier in the day with Ian Stephen (poet from Lewis). We talked about the roots and links of stories and myths, from the Hebrides and across Scandinavia.
Ian is also a navigator who has sailed the north seas alongside artists, musicians and fellow poets. Louise and I were delighted to record a few poetry recitals (limited technology means I’ll have to await my return to Edinburgh to pist these).
We found time to stop at the stones of Callanish on Lewis yesterday before driving down to Harris. Beautful, slender columns of Lewisian gneiss – they have an incredibly graceful presence.
I began to draw parallels between the layers of gneiss deep beneath layers of peat, laid down over thousands of years, and the layers of stories we spoke about with Ian, their origins buried in time and conciousness, emerging in fragments that tease us with partially lost meaning; it’s probably the unknown element that so charms our imagination.
We’re exploring Lewis, Harris and Skye over the next week sketching, painting, writing and filming as part of our collaborative project this year. Tomorrow we’ll explore the standing stones of Callanish.
We also met Lewis poet Ian Stephen on the ferry, I haven’t seen him for about ten years – we’re droppibg in to say hello in the morning so more about Ian tomorrow.
Lastly a quick sketch of Louise snoozing on the ferry!
In Achiltibuie in coigach in the north west of Scotland visiting friends before our ferry to Lewis tomorrow …
It’s just a week away from my upcoming Hebridean trip and collaboration with author and poet Louise Palfreyman and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu. I’ll be travelling with Louise, then post-Hebrides we’ll be collaborating with Atzi (hopefully all of us returning to the Hebrides early next year if funds/time allow).
I’ve known Atzi for about 10 years, having met him on various occasions at a variety of venues, concerts and arts events where he performed as a composer and cellist in a variety of genres, from contemporary classical, to performances as part of string quartet Lipsync for a Lullaby and on film scores including The Violinist and The Making of Longbird. I’ve been lucky to work with him on several projects since 2013.
As mentioned a few weeks ago I’m featuring an interview with both of these talented, lovely people in my blog, which started with Louise Palfreyman (interview Here) and Atzi Muramatsu today…
Rose: Hi Atzi and thanks for doing this interview. I’ve known you for quite a few years and was always intrigued by your approach as a musician. Your work crosses genres from classical to contemporary but also you work a lot in collaboration with various artists and artforms from dance to film, theatre and art.
Can you tell me a bit about your background, where you were born and grew up, why you decided to study music and move to the UK?
Atzi: I was born in Japan and grew up there mostly. I tagged along with my father who was transferred to London for his work in 2000. I was simply bored of living in conservative Japan where I felt openness and individuality were not appreciated. I spent a couple of years in London before I came to Scotland to study something unrelated to music. I have always played music, mainly fronting bands. But it was not until a later stage that I picked up a cello and started writing music in broader terms. I was lucky that the music professors and post graduate students at Edinburgh University’s music department saw potential and recommended me to study composition.
R: I’ve observed that a strong classical music training can sometimes produce musicians who work only within that tradition; it can be restrictive perhaps to creativity, or appreciation of other genres. Can you talk a bit about the different music forms you work with, and what inspired you to do stray across the usual musical boundaries?
A: I’m not a classically trained musician. As most things I do in life I taught myself to play, read and write music. It was a very natural progression as a musician playing in bands getting more interested in contemporary classical music. What many classical musicians suffer is the fear of making the simplest mistake and therefore failing an audition. It’s really a Pavlovian classical conditioning of fear. But I also know a lot of classically trained professional players who are most wonderful improvisers and creative geniuses.
R: Recently you won the Best Composer Award at the BAFTA Scotland New Talent Awards for your work on a short film ‘The Violinist’. I was delighted for you and think it’s very much deserved, because as well as your being talented I know how hard you work. How did it feel to receive the award? Was there a sense of your efforts being recognised at last?!
A: Yes most certainly. It’s the accumulation of work you do that leads to things like this. Not just writing for films, but all the playing and collaboration with many artists as that lead to things like an award. Every little thing you’ve done in the past builds your confidence and projection. Having said that, a nomination and a win was a bit of a surprise. I thank the people involved in making the film and putting the £30 entry fee on my behalf. I didn’t even think of submitting the film for the award until prompted.
R: How would you describe the collaborative process? What do you enjoy about it or find inspiring?
A: It’s that sheer euphoric moment when something sparkles in your brain and all of a sudden everything gets very exciting, new, and challenging. It’s hard to get the same stimulus when you’re working on your own.
R: One of your pieces that I first became interested in was ‘Five seconds left’, it spoke to me about the feeling of journeys, though that was my subjective response of course. You generously let me attach it to a video I’d made of slow-motion waves from a ferry (link below). Can you talk about that, the inspiration and why you chose that title?
A: The music was an experiment I did long time ago when I was teaching myself some theory. I wrote this piece in 5/8 timing, and the key is constantly shifting so that it makes a full round of circle of fifths. The music is nostalgic, and it seems it goes on repeating forever. But that’s the illusion, thus the title. It does come to an end.
R: In 2013 we began to loosely collaborate when you improvised on cello in response to my paintings as part of an exhibition launch. I’m a strong believer in improvisatory and experimental approaches, it keeps the creative process fresh, but it takes someone experienced to make it work as a successful performance or artwork; a final work in itself. I’ve watched you improvise on many occasions and you always appear very comfortable with improvised performance for the public. Can you tell me more about your approach to that? For example, talk me through your improvised response to one of my paintings – ‘Moonlight on Eigg’ (which I recorded on a small camera at the time, link below). I find it an absolutely beautiful piece and was very moved by it.
A: A couple of weeks ago I saw this Brian Cox interview where he’s asked by a schoolgirl how he manages his time playing music and working out physics. I don’t think anyone in that TV show really understood what he meant, but his response sums up what I do. Music and physics are both simply a human response to the environment. I am simply channeling what I see and feel into my playing. There is no right or wrong. I might play something that sounds horrible, but it doesn’t matter because I’m merely a vessel to transpose the environment into sounds. It’s really up to the people who are hearing the music to decide what’s working and what’s not. In that sense, yes I am very comfortable. I’m not being judged on anything here
R: In September 2015 we visited the Isle of Eigg as part of a year-long project about Eigg. It was a stroke of luck that our trip coincided with a boat tour of a ship called ‘The Leader’ which was cruising around the inner Hebrides and Eigg, with geologists, writers artists and musicians on board. (The trip re-created the journey made by geologist Hugh Miller who discovered the bones of a Plesiosaurus on the north coast of Eigg in the summer of 1844).
I remember we joined in on a day-trip to the cliffs at the north end of the island with geologist Prof’ John Hudson and poet Norman Bisset among others. We stopped at the foot of the cliffs where you began to write your piece for string quartet ‘Gaia Metempsychosis’ (link below, work in progress) Can you talk me through that – what you were thinking or feeling as you sat beneath the cliffs, and the ideas behind the piece?
A: Oh yes that was an inspiring trip. I have this fascination with death and decay, like most artists do. It’s a mirror image of life and prosperity. Darker the room, brighter the flame. Anyhow, I saw the ancient rocks finally melting in the sea in front of me. The history died. That was an inspiration. That feeling contrasted being on the island where a lot of people living there are expats who chose a self-sustainable alternative life. So I began writing the sketches of what became the string quartet piece, where there is a lot of death that is also celebratory. I did imagine skeleton bones in an underworld ball room while I sat there.
R: On our return to Edinburgh you worked with Jennifer (poet J.L. Williams) on a poetry and music collaboration in response to the paintings and themes of the Eigg project, which was performed live at the Scottish Storytelling Centre against the backdrop of my paintings (The ‘Eigg Trilogy’). I named one painting ‘North –Transmigration’ based on the ideas you’d discussed, which echoed what I wanted to capture in the painting – the passing of time, or the way we distill time through art and the creative process. Jennifer’s poem in response was also very moving, and I was struck by the intensity of the combined works. As you know, this collaboration is a real highlight for me, among many years of working in collaboration with artists. Can you tell me more about how you and Jen worked on that, and the process, particularly for ‘North – Transmigration’?
A: We sat and recorded the music and poetry live in her living room. It had to be spontaneous, and I wanted to respond to both the paintings and her readings. There are a lot of elements I picked on from both the reading and the painting; tempo, velocity, volume, brightness, associated memory, etc etc. They all morphed into this one thing which I was, again, a vessel to make them into sound.
R: Lastly, I’ve focused mostly here on our collaborations, but would you like to talk about what you’d like to do in future musically? Also, you’ve composed a series of successful pieces for film, can you give an example or two of your favourite film music scores by yourself and by other composers?
A: Currently I am working with a real-time music sampling artist Dave House (a.k.a. The Reverse Engineer). We are an experimental electro-pop duo with a gig coming up. We are both enjoying the process very much as we both venture out from our comfort zones. I’m mainly singing and dancing in this.
I really like what Jonny Greenwood does in PT Anderson films. He’s a serious scholar in contemporary music but following rather traditional composers like Olivier Messiaen. Often film directors are scared of putting on music that have too much emotional drive to it, so working with a director who understands your artistry is a gift. I’m not sure if I actually like any music that I’ve ever written. I rather have other people be the judge, so that I can free myself from that constraint. I am most self-critical of my work and it’s frankly an annoying trait.
R: I think self criticism is true of any artist, I know there’s usually a point when I’m painting where I wail – ‘I can’t paint’! If we’re doing it right it’s probably necessary. There was an interview with David Bowie a few years ago where he laughingly but honestly described the process as quite painful, we get angry and frustrated with ourselves. In your case Atzi, I’d say it’s worth the pain, or at least I know there’s plenty of people who appreciate the results! And I’d like to say – that sparkle you talk of (in answers above) when collaborating, is mutual. Thanks for taking time for this Atzi, and I look forward to working with you again later this year.
It’s just a week away from my upcoming Hebridean adventure and collaboration with author and poet Louise Palfreyman (featured in Best British Short Stories 2014,) and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu.
I’ve known Louise since around 2010, when we met at the creative writing group Powwow (based in Birmingham).
As mentioned a few weeks ago I’m featuring an interview with both of these lovely, talented people in my blog, starting with Louise today…
Rose: Thanks for taking time for this interview Louise. Firstly, for me Powwow Writer’s Group was a foray, or sideline into creative writing which I enjoyed, though visual art is my focus, but you’d already had a career as a journalist and in more recent years as an author, with work published in Best British Short Stories, The Pigeonhole, Litro, The View from Here, and Hypertext Magazine. How did you get involved in journalism? It always seems to me a somewhat stressful, if interesting world to be involved in, can you tell me a bit more about that experience?
Louise: I had five options on gaining my degree (actually, you have limitless options, but I narrowed my career choices down to five). I plumped for journalism because I wanted to write. I found the exposure to all walks of life fascinating. It has to have influenced my fiction in some way. In the end it was stressful. The toll it took on family life was enormous, and so I pulled away. I’ll never regret my choice though. It has led to so many other things.
R: There’s a huge difference between journalism and creative writing of course, but it’s a fairly common crossover – many writers have gone from one to the other. Would you say journalism has impacted in any sense on your approach as a creative writer? And why did you decide to pursue creative writing?
L: Journalism taught me economy and precision. I have no trouble editing myself. It also taught me to avoid clutter. I recently put a story of mine into a word counter because I don’t have Word on my phone and it’s a great tool, because it also gives you all sorts of stats on sentence length, word frequency and even reading age. The story read as US fifth grade, which is a reading age of 10-11 years. That’s about right for a former tabloid reporter.
I came to creative writing thinking I could master it pretty quickly, as I’d churned out so many thousands of words over the years. It was arrogant of me to assume that, and I promptly fell flat on my face before slowly learning the new craft of fiction, at PowWow and at an Arvon creative writing retreat, where my story for the Best British anthology was produced.
I’ve been fortunate to rub shoulders more recently with some very fine writers through the encouragement of Nicholas Royle, editor at Salt Publishing, and by corresponding with writers I admire like David Rose, who is one of the best writers of short fiction today. It’s important to up your game, to stretch yourself, and there’s nothing like being around brilliant writers for that.
R: Which authors or writers have been an inspiration, or influence, and what aspects of their work interest you?
L: I’m always careful answering this one, because there’s a huge difference between inspiration and influence. I can walk around in a cosmic daze after reading Don DeLillo, for example, but I have no aspirations to replicate his voice or style. I am not an ageing American male. I’m a carefully preserved English female.
My biggest influence, truly, is poetry. Again, I’ll keep names vague because what poetry has taught me has far more to do with rhythm and symbolism than it ever could about the specificity of a single voice.
R: Your preferred forms at the moment are the short story or ‘flash fiction’. Reading through The Jewel of the Orient (link below) I was struck by the depth of ideas and atmosphere captured in such a short work – it takes us on quite a journey in a short piece of text. What led you to choose the shorter form as opposed to the novel? Can you describe the process of packing so much in to a short work- for example is it edited from a much longer work or structured carefully from the beginning?
L: The Jewel was one of those pieces that came into me and inhabited me, rather than a story I laboured over for weeks, though there are plenty of those.
Again, poetry has everything to do with how I approach the short story form. I feel excited by what you can achieve in fewer than 3,000 words – which is what my stories tend to be. And I love the rigour of flash. I’m very pleased with a recent story of 346 words. I try to tell a complete tale in as few words as possible. A great exercise is to look at a first draft and halve it. Halve it exactly. Then halve it again. What have you lost? What have you gained?
Of course, this process involves more than just slash and burn. You also have to step back and consider what you wanted to achieve in the first place. What is your story about? What is its main thrust? These are the things that can get lost, I feel.
Never forget the purpose, the singularity, of a short story.
R: One of the qualities I most enjoy in your writing is I suppose what you’d call magic realism; the way you draw your reader gradually into unreality. In Buddleia for example (audio link below), it’s pleasing to discover she has wings, we want her to have wings. Or in Jewel of the Orient the completely unexpected transformation at the point where the sexual voyeur expects a ‘happy ending’! It’s surprising, often very amusing (also in Calypso where she struggles to convince mental health workers she’s immortal) but these aspects tie in to the heart or idea of the story.
Are there reasons why a central theme of the fantastical or dream-like is a recurring theme in your work? How do you take the reader convincingly on that journey?
L: I never set out to consciously address the reader, for starters. These considerations have to come later, in the editing stage. What is needed first of all is complete immersion. Some people grab a few minutes of writing time as soon as they wake up. They tell me that they are still tapped into their subconscious at that critical point before showering, dressing and surfacing into the day.
Unfortunately, I am not a morning person (as you well know) and so I am unable to access my subconscious at this crucial point. I have to get there at other times, and I definitely have to bring myself into ‘the zone’ in order to be able to achieve the right flow of thought.
It’s not about automatic writing, or the ‘stream of consciousness’ style so despised by some. There is structure in there too, which can come from turning over an image or an idea, sometimes for days, weeks, months. Ideas formulate in interesting ways, and I’m not sure I can entirely answer your question about why the fantastical recurs in my writing. Of course, to say ‘It just does’ would be infuriating, so I’ve tried to unpack it a little. My love of Debussy and poetry may give you more explanation, perhaps. Symbolism. Impressionism. Other worlds. I like to escape.
R: You have a talent for capturing atmosphere, and the sense of place. Are you an author who collects observations in a little book each day, or is it largely sense recall or a trip through imagination?
L: I try to jot key things down, usually into Notes on my phone. I recently resurrected an old digital voice recorder. I’ve kitted it out with a lapel mic. I am going to discretely mutter to myself in the park. I like the idea of muttering away whilst walking the dog. You have to grab thoughts when they come to you, and mine come when I walk. They also flood in on train journeys, so travel can be very good for inspiration.
R: Lastly, what are you looking forward to, creatively as a writer, on our upcoming Hebridean odyssey? Is this a new approach for you and how do you feel about the collaborative process? Is that a new experience for you?
L: Collaboration is a complete joy. I’m an extrovert writer, and so I find the isolation inherent in the process absolutely crucifying. It is always so refreshing to attend workshops and classes, events and performances, and collaboration also affords artists the very particular joy of synergy. Knowing that your creative fusion has produced something you can present to the world, something unique and of that time and those particular people, is, I think, very special. So I’m looking forward to our adventure enormously. When you are working with people you admire, forces build before you have even started. There’s an immense anticipation, an energy. Things are starting to form, and we haven’t even got there yet!
R: I echo your thoughts wholeheartedly! This is going to be a fascinating journey, I’m honoured and inspired to have you and Atzi working on this project. Thanks Louise for sharing thoughts about your work with me, and I’ll see you on the 16th when we start our journey!
(More about our collaboration and Hebridean trip Here)
My latest painting commission (above) of the Bass Rock – one of my favourite subjects.
It’s been a pleasure to paint as I’ve not had so much time between various other projects, including an outdoor painting workshop (I’ve began a new series ‘Painting landscape’ based on the workshops which you can view Here)
Also getting ready for a Hebridean journey with author Louise Palfreyman, which you can read more about Here