Epitaph for the Badger

It’s not new for me! This was published in 1971 in The Lady
(written under the name I used then for Natural History books)

Slide 17

Epitaph for the Badger

A snarling dark shape in the depths of night,
To blunder into whilst you’re sharing paths,
Reduces careless ignorance to fright.
But in others raises quick-witted laughs.

There are very few to be had today,
Farmers and ministers have seen to that.
While hunts sabs and patrols, try as they may,
Can’t hope to mangle each and every trap.

What it is to be feared, yet have no voice:
Found guilty by the company we keep.
It could never have been a badger’s choice
To mix with cows or dung or corn or sheep.

And then a microscopic deadly bug,
Named long ago after some wretched cow,
Makes untold thousands of needless graves dug.
Continues the killing from then till now.

*

As the badger noses his woodland track,
And cubs dance among the bluebells in play,
A mercenary with gun on his back
Approaches – sights set on a hapless prey.

Despite frenzied digging, claws long and torn,
There is now no escape from trap or cage.
The badger lapses, senseless and forlorn,
And awaits the man blind intent with rage.

The end comes quick enough in drifts of mud.
All it proclaims is man’s insanity.
An inhuman prison, base mired in blood.
And no earthly help to bovine TB.

Across all the land, thousands of cattle
Who, for all their history, stamp and fret
With no fear or thought of senseless battle.
And leave trails of death we’ll never forget.

*

And the cows. They go from a stinking byre,
Through crush and syringe to Positive test.
And end their days on a funeral pyre.
Is there anyone left who is not depressed?

I’ve been lost and bereft for forty years
By abrogation of a science law.
And have seen around me good fellows’ tears.
Nonplussed, unbelieving, in fraught furore.

Cool appraisal of the science shows,
However black and white (and neat) it feels,
The badger’s not the enemy they know;
For it’s cows which take the bug field to fields.

Yet on and on it goes, running amok.
How or when it will end, no-one can say.
But when they’ve killed the last remaining Brock,
They will find another excuse for prey.

*

And as though all this wasn’t bad enough,
We see the man touting pistol or gun
Who thinks it’s a mark of being real tough:
Sport of a quarry shot simply for fun.

Official massacre carries no hope.
A steam-hammer abused will crack no nut;
Blunderbusses trained through a microscope
Can’t stem a bacterial tide like Cnut.

A host called spill-over is Brock’s death-knell
Caught up in the saga of bTB,
Looks on from woodland setts where it would dwell:
A hapless bystander in history.

Politicians – government ministers –
Self-imagery of their poor selves made,
Think mainly in terms of ballot papers.
And wildlife can make no Jarrow Crusade.

*

‘Here today, gone tomorrow’, it’s been said,
Civil servants who blithely walk away.
Leaving behind their bloodied trails of dead
Which had no English voice and held no sway.

When they’ve murdered all that the state decrees,
Don’t think it all over, dusted and done.
On moor, or under wooded canopies,
The thugs will still be there with dog and gun.

Sharing between them one medieval
Mindset lacking all imagination.
Corrupted by peer and older evil
A bloodlust thirsting for extermination.

And while one arm of the law tries its best
To save from louts a protected icon,
Another in power and much better dressed,
Finds ways of letting the killing go on.

(c) Richard Meyer, September 2018

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Bucks Mills Pebbles exhibition; new Poetry section on website; Literature about children; and public speaking.

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I listened to advice (surprise, as it may be to some, I do sometimes) and Phil my excellent framer gave one of the pebble studies a bigger ‘more generous’ mount; I’d been told my original ones were “too mean”. The two different versions are currently on show at the Burton at Bideford Gallery. Pop along if you are in North Devon; admission is free and there is lots of really good art (I never say that lightly).

Both are available at a measly £145 despite difference in framing, but it’s the art work that’s important, isn’t it?  I feel pleased with this series and also that I’ve broken new ground.  The remainder of the series will go in Recent Work soon – I’ll send a note when that is done (a few test ones are actually up there now, have a look).

Xhibition slide (2)An exhibition of my flower paintings is at RHS Rosemoor from 1st September to 7th October. This is the second collaboration with brilliant ceramicist Eilean Eland. And of course the Rosemoor gardens are always a delight.

Additionally, I’ve been occupied since May with a personal and rather difficult commission.  In fact a painting for a friend which I was most anxious to get ‘right’.  It was difficult in the sense that it is small (A5), a nude figure and I needed to please both my friend and of course myself.  It turned out to be one of the hardest paintings I’ve ever done but I won’t be able to show it  because it is private.

It’s not just this that has been weighing heavily on my mind it is my writing and conservation work too. I’ve published a few recent poems here https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/writing/poems.  I’m finding great release in poetry these days: enabling me to convey observations and reflections in a succinct form which is I hope both exciting and original.

Also finishing my third novel revelling in the fertile imagination of children.  Although stigmatised as ‘children’s books’ they are actually novels about children.  So-called  ‘children’s books’ are the only books categorised by perceived readership not by content: a source of irritation and mystification.  I ask you, are ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, ‘His Dark Materials’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘David Copperfield’, ‘A High Wind in Jamaica’, to name just a few, ‘children’s books’?   I would say not; they are literature which feature children – not the same thing at all.  Maybe you could add your own titles here, and we could explore this subject again more fully.

Finally, on Saturday 18th I was in Exeter taking part in a very noisy public meeting and march through Exeter city centre.  You won’t be surprised to know it was about the appalling Badger cull here in the UK.  I’ve never before stood on a soapbox (in fact a public bench in a sort of ‘Speakers’ Corner) and addressed a crowd through a PA system.  I had 15 mins to summarise nearly 50 years of history) and think I did OK – but certainly no better; not sure that soapbox oratory is my thing.

I hope you may leave the odd comment, if only to show that you’ve read this far!

 

 

New Chris Thomas Exhibition

Chris Thomas catalogue

We took the bike down to the Camelford Gallery for a preview of Chris Thomas’s impressive exhibition Documenting the New Build. The exhibition is exactly that: paintings recording a housing development adjacent to his studio in North Cornwall. From very understandable initial resentment, he soon saw an opportunity to use the experience artistically, in the process becoming part of it, to the extent of being accepted on site by the builders as a kind of hard-hatted, hi-viz ‘artist-in-residence’. From my perspective, this took some guts.

During the course of building 21 ‘affordable homes’ Chris produced a tumultuous body of work: starring large oil paintings (some of them 2-3 metres wide) mainly on board. It is not hard to imagine how, to a casual passer-by, Chris lugging these round the site would have looked exactly like one of the builders. There are also intense smaller studies exhibited and a portfolio of large charcoal drawings. My favourite of all is Study from the studio executed in February this year. – I wish I could afford it. 

There is also a comprehensive illustrated catalogue with illuminating text produced to a very high standard. This was something I could afford and mine – the first to be sold at the Preview – Chris kindly signed for me: it is something I will treasure.

 

Chris Thomas frontispiece

Gratitude also due to artist John Blight for putting on the show at his gallery which, for me, exemplifies precisely what a gallery should be: something not unlike Rembrandt would have recognised: a real working artist-gallery with little concession to commercialism; in other words, not a ‘picture shop’ which so many so-called galleries actually are.

I’ll stop there lest another rant begins!

Henry Israel, Jan 22 1933 – Dec 24 2017

Henry Israel (2)

Henry Israel – A rare and genuine artist

Henry was a truly great artist and teacher. We shared the same birthday but not the same year. He was strong and forceful but enormously kind – and very patient if he thought you were serious. For over 30 years I regarded him as my mentor: he jostled on my shoulder as I worked (and still does) with my brother John Martin and Paul Cezanne – stern but wise mentors all.

He was classically trained at the Slade but not well known beyond a small circle of collectors and students in North Cornwall because he hated attention and fuss. I remember him once saying that he didn’t paint in public because it’s not a performance. This makes him sound a curmudgeon but he wasn’t; he had a dark and mischievous East London sense of humour, which I think comes across in the photo above.

Our painting techniques, from widely different starting points, seemed to converge at the end.  He was always a decidedly abstract painter – stunningly original – but I felt he came to me, but he would say the opposite of course. We had one exhibition together in Camelford in 2005: Henry’s B&W photography and drawings, and my own very un-B&W paintings.  We also had a love of animals in common.

I miss his wise counsel tremendously.  He leaves his wife, Caeria – also a very fine and completely different painter.

Henry landscape

A late landscape: he painted on board and, as you can see here, came to use a painting knife; this gives our work certain similarities. We both evolved the use of under layers of paint as plane boundaries.

£500 DONATED TO THE HIGH COURT JUDICIAL REVIEW TO SAVE BADGERS

Forgive this wildlife intrusion into what is primarily an art site but, as those who know me will appreciate, I’ve had a lifelong passion for the non-human environment, and the cause of the much abused Badger is dear to my heart.

Zoology and writing were what I laughingly call my career for many years, and over thirty ago I wrote a book called The Fate of the Badger, published by Batsford (sadly no more). In 2016 we realised that so little had changed in this dreadful saga through all that time we decided to republish Fate in facsimile form with added new material.

 02                           02 fotb_cover

Obtainable from http://www.fire-raven.co.uk at £9.50 +p&p

I have much pleasure in reprinting the following:

Fire-raven Writing, publishers of the new edition of Richard’s book, announces ‘We are pleased to donate £500 from proceeds of @DrRichardMeyer’s book, The Fate of The Badger, in support of Tom Langton’s badger cull challenges in the High Court.’

For more information on this tremendously important and possibly ground-breaking High Court action directed by Tom please see https://www.badger.org.uk/eurobadger. If you can find a surplus pound or two lurking in your purse or pocket we can think of no better place to send it; Tom and the whole badger world will be very grateful.

***

A personal note from Richard… ‘The fate of the badger has blighted my adult life, occupied much of my time and probably encroached on my good nature, however I do not seek to make any money or benefit in any material way from its plight.’

For an interview I did with Emma Powell https://emmapowell.co.uk/ please see  https://youtu.be/ueSD4HTd3yQ.

Thanks so much for caring enough to read this far!

Film review: Gauguin: Voyage de Tahiti

 

Gauguin & Cassel

Gauguin with Vincent Cassel in the title role

Went to see this film at my lovely local Arts Centre. It was a pleasant concoction but if you hadn’t been told it was about the artist Paul Gauguin on Tahiti and came to it cold, you might be excused for thinking it was just another love(-triangle but not really) drama set in an exotic location, bearing as little resemblance to the life of a painter (of static images) as only a cinematographer could make. It deals with Paul Gauguin’s first visit to Polynesia (you’ll be amazed his health stood up to a second!).  It was the second when he did most of the great paintings for which he is justly famous.

Having read David Sweetman’s 600 page ‘A complete life’ of Gauguin (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), it feels these are two very different people. That’s fine – it’s a film – but why hang it on a famous painter if not to attract another audience. Sweetman gave every impression of hating Gauguin, but that’s another story. The film is certainly beautiful, thanks to the location more than to the characterisations, and is aided by a lovely mellow score. Energetically edited and well acted, even if the titular role, played by Vincent Cassel, is one-dimensional. Without Cassel the film would be nothing. Apart from some sketching, carving and minimal painting, there was little about art or Gauguin’s serious philosophy of it – which deserved attention.

On a more mundane level, his amorous exploits (often with under-age girls, one of whom he ‘married’ even though he was already married to Mette back home) and syphilis were ignored, as were his long-running disputes with the church and authority in general. A doctor was invented to befriend him, rather in the Dr Gachet mould, but I can find no authority for this. His main Western friend was a Lieutenant Jénot. I don’t think he ever rode a horse up into the mountains or lived as a castaway, though he looked very much like one. In actual fact, he caught a coach out of town!

I yearn for a film which looks at a real painter’s life, but it might be tedious viewing to most people, a bit like watching an author write a book. The nearest I’ve seen to it is ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ which revealed the difficulties in Vermeer’s life, trying to paint in a domestic situation. At least Edouard Deluc’s film was sympathetic to the subject and, thankfully, avoided concentration on fornication, drinking and brawling – which, as we all know, are the staple of an artist’s life!

Gauguin crept into the corner an old unsuccessful painting (below) but the rest got painted over (here).

Re-gazed, det

 

Chaim Soutine exhibition

A visit to see Soutine at The Courtauld Gallery in London turned out to be a mismatch of the expected. Having studied this phenomenal artist ever since I began to paint seriously myself in the 1970s, his work has been massively influential, validating looseness and freeing up honesty. I’ve responded most to his landscapes – more so than the portraits but Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys are the subject of this exhibition. There aren’t many Soutines in British collections, so to suddenly be confronted by 21 portraits, most of which I knew so well from reproductions was something of a shock to the senses. Not so much the visual as the tactile.

soutine-3The Chambermaid (1913)

In truth, they were both disappointing and exhilarating. Maybe that sentence needs some explanation. Disappointing because they were less spontaneous than I expected. The execution was carefully considered even though he never made drawings, either on the canvas or in sketchbooks. In fact, there are none in existence. There I was, expecting de Kooning-like explosions of passion. Frenetic paint and ideas mixed up together and dumped spontaneously on the canvas, instead I found repetitive series. Nothing wrong with that, it was just not what I was expecting. More fool me.

My visit happily coincided with a curatorial talk. His painting practice was not mentioned once; at the end I had to ask the question ‘Did he use knives or just brushes?’. Neither on the information panels was there any reference to technique, well, just one reference to brushmarks. All reviews have been concerned solely with the subjects of the paintings – who or rather what they were, their jobs, their social status, their poses etc. It was more a psychological study than a painting one. That was disappointing for me as a painter, but it must be what most visitors are interested in. As a masterful manipulator of paint and restricted colour, how could this be?

With van Gogh, we hear about the way he painted, as with de Kooning, Pollock and Dubuffet, but if anyone needs his technique discussed and analysed it’s Soutine. One often encounters the same anthropocentricity with Rembrandt, whom Soutine admired above all, as must, I submit, any real painter. Just look at Rembrandt’s handling of  paint.

Details, Soutine (l) Rembrandt (r)

So those were some disappointments, what about the exhilaration? It’s what I get when in front of a REAL painting, a work in which the integrity and sincerity of the worker smacks you in the face, right between the eyes. This doesn’t happen often, even with ‘big names’ and the grand masters, there is so much commercialism to sift through. This has always been the case.

If I don’t paint for money, why should anyone else! Soutine didn’t, at least not until, he was ‘discovered’ by the immensely rich American collector, Albert C. Barnes. He became an overnight celebrity in Paris, and possibly more repetitive.

Soutine’s enormous impact stems from his ruthless approach and his early forthright attack on stuff of painting; his independent vision, fierce individualism. His close friend Modigliani had absolutely no influence on his technique whatsoever although he did on choice of subject. The other big quality was his downright angry unconventionalism. Oh, yes, his landscapes are angry, and from that anger he derived energy. But I’m not convinced his portraits are angry at all.

A human-being sat in front of you, staring straight at you – as his models did – can be unnerving, especially if that person is bored or anxious, and doubts whether he’ll ever get paid. I found it difficult to concentrate on the actual panting and distance myself from the living being in front of me, for his paintings certainly are ‘alive’. When I did, my passion bounded back.

In 1913, at the age of 20, he arrived in Paris from Lithuania. It took 10 years of extreme poverty before being discovered by Barnes. As a Jew he felt constantly persecuted and from 1940 hides from the Nazis. He dies tragically from an untreated ulcer in 1943.