Isle of Wight is ‘Go’!

dramaticflight

Now that we have the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) back in Cornwall and, therefore England – something that’s been dear to my heart all my life, certainly since I started working with them in the 1970s. They took up a good five years of my life in the eighties, as anyone who knows me knows.  The results of all that work can be seen in my thesis here https://chough.org/research-papers

So it was great to be involved in someone else’s project for once and view it from a more dispassionate angle.  This is part of what I wrote to Steve Jones – indefatigable and a huge source of knowledge about the island’s wildlife – after I visited last week and was shown  lots of key sites.  His energy and imagination will I’m sure achieve results.  

Dear Steve,
Thank you very much for taking the time to show Sam and myself round many potential Chough sites on the island on Tuesday. It was an exciting, if very hot, visit which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The experience far exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for such a varied and extensive range of different highly suitable habitats.

Despite the fact that it was high tourist season, with increased numbers due to ‘staycation’, large areas we visited were devoid of human (and dog) presence. In contrast, the invertebrate populations were more dense than anything I’ve seen on the mainland recently, so prey resources are well catered for – the richness of bird life, resident and visiting the island on migration, supports this view – nesting sites similarly.

There is ample short-grazed / naturally exposed sward available with plenty of mosaics and earth exposures of different kinds with good areas of varied wild cliffscape and inaccessible coves and beaches; the quality of geology and botany is extensive and rich. In short, I was deeply struck by the extent and variability of suitable Chough habitat; it was difficult to think of anything which was lacking! 

Considering the island is (surprisingly!) large, all compass points and aspects are available viz a viz shelter, breeding, feeding, and exposure (including east for early morning solar irradiation).  There is generally sympathetic stewardship with the National Trust being principal, and also wealthy independent landowners keen on chough re-establishment. The entire island contains within its ca.150 sq mi (380 km2) and coastline of approximately 70 miles (113km) a surfeit of extensive fine habitats.

We talked quite a lot about suitable sites for the location of captive-breeding/soft release sites, and you showed me a few possible places. 

I can only send my the very best in your endeavours and just wish the birds were available now for you to progress quickly. To sum up briefly, I have no doubt the island, as it is, can support a viable Chough population. 

Thank you once again for the expert guidance you gave us and your kind hospitality.

[NB. The Chough is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem, in other words, if it can support this top species it can support everything else ‘beneath’ it (in food chain terms).]

The Robin I wrote about last time is still with us but now in perfect adult plumage; I still find it hard to believe that a totally wild animal can, after all we throw at wildlife, be so trusting.

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Bird in the hand

So I get to pondering why some birds are born tame. Why some show little or  no fear of our towering human presences, while others, from the same brood, behave like normal wild animals and avoid close contact at all costs. Perhaps they are the sensible ones.

Perhaps, the Robin – emblem of countless Christmas cards – more than any other species has been spared human cruelty and persecution: gardeners enjoy their close association and naturalists love their winter song (on account of the fact they hold territories through the year). Those are some of the reasons, but why this particular individual?

 

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Slightly blurry photo taken with one hand!

Straight from the nest, she was confiding and tame, on the ground round our feet, soon coming to the hand for food. Slightly wary at first but now she comes and demands it, as though I’m her natural parent (anything less like is difficult to imagine).

When she lands confidently, her tiny claws pressing into my flesh, I know I’m in direct contact with a life form which has come down through millennia despite all the vicissitudes of climate, predators, man and habitat change.

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This confiding little creature enlivens and enchants. I just hope that losing her fear of man, does not dull her reflexes, because there are plenty of other dangers: cats always a danger here. And Sparrowhawks need to feed too.

Revenge of the Introverts

The Merlin and a Raven-Buzzard dogfight
(plus a sneaky look at a drab little bird with a remarkable sex life)

April, 2020:  Unless you are affected medically, or trapped in an impossible (or just very difficult) domestic situation, this is a unique time. Especially for naturalists and for all those who savour the spectacular sound of silence which now covers the countryside in a sublime shroud, although it is slowly being removed. For sound recordists of natural phenomena, it is an unparalleled opportunity: so little traffic and aircraft noise, and I’ve even noticed a quieter strimmer serenade – one of the more irritating sounds of summer – or maybe they just haven’t quite found their voice yet.

Unable to travel to nature reserves, beauty spots or just one’s favourite haunt, be it a gravel pit, reservoir, park or wood, we can stay at home with a chance to get to know better what used to be called Common or garden birds.  And we notice they are not so ‘common’, in fact they are rather rare and fascinating; and we realise how little we actually do know them. The humble Dunnock (Hedge sparrow, or even ‘Hedge accentor’ if you will) for example possesses a sex life to be marvelled at, and you may notice their polyandrous trios bumbling about hedgerow bottoms; Mrs Dunnock is very free with her favours. I haven’t myself counted but Dr Tim Birkhead has, and he advises that male Dunnocks can copulate 100 times a day.

Dunnock-minDunnock Prunella modularis

The intriguing sex life of Dunnocks apart, I was sitting in my North Devon garden in April with Mij (a non-polyandrous wife), enjoying the astonishing quietness all around and waiting impatiently for our first Swallow (my daughter, Josie, saw hers ages ago, but she always beats me to everything), a bird come fleeting up the valley over the woodland. “A Swallow,” I cried; Mij immediately, “No, it’s a bird of prey” (she always contradicts me and is frustratingly usually right), but I, quick as a flash, came back, “A Merlin then.”  And we watched in awe as this little falcon flew quietly over us, not hunting just waving. Only the third I’ve ever seen.

My son, Sam, phoned that night from his home in rural Hampshire. I told him about the Merlin, and he said he’d never seen one but thought he’d spotted a Hobby once. “Where could I see a Merlin?” he asked, I replied, “Well, you’ve just got to be lucky, like we were. I wouldn’t like to say ‘Hey, Sam, we’ll go up to Exmoor and I’ll show you a Merlin, it’s not like that.'”

So, what have I learned?  You can stay at home, save your petrol (and the environment), and have just as much chance of seeing something interesting and beautiful as if you trek off somewhere special in full birding gear. It might be a sexy female Dunnock or even a spectacular Will-o’-the-Wisp Merlin.

It could even be as exciting as the sequel to our Merlin adventure. For immediately after he had winnowed off, the stage was taken by a contest between a nesting Raven and loafing Buzzard. We watched these two sparring for twenty minutes before a second Buzzard arrived. I don’t think they were really interested in the Raven chicks (probably quite a size by early April) but gave the impression of just enjoying winding-up the parents. In effect we were greeted to a dogfight worthy of Manfred von Richthofen: the Raven swooping down from… out of the sun? I wouldn’t like to say… but it was pretty spectacular.  As the Buzzard turned over to meet it, the Raven would come within inches of its tormentor plummeting to the nadir of its descent, and from there, with the momentum gained, rapidly climb high for the next assault. The Buzzard appeared merely to flick the Raven aside and continue riding the thermals in carefree arabesques.

It is not always so charming. In a book I wrote under another name many years ago*, I included a photograph of a Raven with its top mandible ripped off by a Buzzard (it was then being cared for in a Wildlife Hospital, and survived by swallowing day-old chicks whole).

I so hope that whoever has a window on the world – preferably one which opens – can get a glimpse such as this. My daughter, Emma, who lives in a high flat in Ealing can see Sparrowhawks from her window, and I wouldn’t doubt Peregrines, and her partner, Raoul, a sound recordist, has sent me a recording of their dawn chorus. On it I can hear Nuthatches, tits, Blackbirds, sparrows, Wood pigeons, and ‘seagulls’ of course.

There is no need for isolation, birds and bees obey no human social distancing. I am sending Emma a window bird feeder and some seed. She claims they are too high up to attract small birds, but I challenge that. We will see who is right; if things run according to rule when it comes to women and me, I know the answer. Rosie Wood, a badger colleague, sent me an epithet which said, ‘If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?’ And I know the answer to that one too.

* As Richard Mark Martin, First Aid and Care of Wildlife, David & Charles, 1984.

Art for free, or very nearly! [Plus a thought on Coronavirus]

In these trying times many people are told to stay indoors – I’m one of them. But while the human species is being sorely tested, nature carries on: following the seasons as it has since the beginning of time. The rain falls, the sun shines and the wind blows. With the weather hopefully getting better (in the UK at least) we can venture outside more – in our garden, if we’re lucky enough to have one, in the park – best early morning or lovely dusky time (‘dimpsey’ as we say in Devon), along the riverbank, or roaming moorland, woods, seashore, cliffs or farmland etc.

But, if we have physically to stay indoors, don’t forget the boundless bookshelf: doorway into a million other worlds. If you don’t have a bookshelf, there are lots of free books online… And in this ‘ill wind’ there are some glorious free breezes, and so thought to do my (tiny) bit:

Reading: an opportunity to read the old first edition of the adventure I wrote quite some years ago; it was then called ‘The Children Who Wouldn’t…’  and it is now available as a Kindle free introductory download or for a minimal £0.99p from Amazon. Please visit https://tinyurl.com/yd6onv64 to see it and some great reviews. Here are two examples:

Rob: “It has been a long time since I have read a book that I couldn’t put down. Once I had started this book I had to finish it. When is the next book coming out?”  (2014).

David Freedman, author of Artist Blacksmith Sculpture: “This book takes the reader on a fantastical journey. A genuine adventure story, carefully crafted and beautifully told. It is a highly original and imaginative tale that keeps you guessing. Would highly recommend to children and adults alike” (April 2014). 

Susan Hampshire: “Its a wee bit more challenging that most children’s books. Its the kind of book that I imagine best read aloud..a chapter a week and then discussed. Lovely and old fashioned in a sense. (2014).

So, this is the original version of a story which I’ve subsequently edited under the title ‘Trespassers in Their Own Land’. Having now finished two sequels, I’m looking for a publisher prepared to take on these as a trilogy: working title, A Wilderness of Secrets.

And please don’t forget, whatever the government pretends, the Badger cull still continues, and my book The Fate of the Badger http://www.fire-raven.co.uk is sadly as relevant today as ever. Sir Michael Morpurgo says, “Fate of the Badger is so important to the Fate of the Countryside. There is so much to unlearn. Then we may have to start paying attention.’

On Painting: my studio is sadly no more – having been converted into a dwelling (financial necessity) – so I literally have a shed-full of paintings which I’m ordered to declutter (Clutter!! What?!). Anyway, all those I have languishing in two sheds, see https://richardmeyer.co.uk are available at drastic knock-down prices…! Basically make me an offer, and I’d be unlikely to refuse!

Meantime, putting on my zoologist’s hat, I’ve noticed very little, if any, attention is being paid to Coronavirus from a zoological perspective. Believing that one should know one’s enemy, it’s important to understand how viruses work. Coronavirus is not a disease, that’s Covid-19, but an organism of the genus Betacoronavirus, and as such its aim is to multiply, and not cause disease – which is an unfortunate consequence from their ‘point of view’. It benefits no parasite (or pathological organism) to kill it’s host, which is why it is the vulnerable human who is most likely to succumb. Nature at work is not always humane but it might help if we try to understand and not always look at everything from an anthropocentric point of view.

This is just my view, so please make contact, and let’s have a virtual conversation.

PAINTINGS OR PICTURES?

Review of recent exhibition of some nature painting with Eilean Eland’s sculpture with some thoughts on the differences between paintings and ‘pictures’.

       

  Eland Blue woman               Meyer Sweetpeas in a blue jug

Having just taken down my exhibition with ceramicist Eilean Eland at RHS Rosemoor, I fell to reflecting on its success (or lack of it) and the responses of some sturdy folk who visited having braved the often pretty awful weather, and have once again come to the conclusion that most people look at pictures, not at paintings.  Let me explain, and I’m not speaking here of watercolours, they are a quite different kettle of fish!

In galleries, paintings are usually scanned cursorily, and not examined or studied.  But let’s distinguish between pictures and paintings: a picture is always a picture, but often not a painting. In other words, the ‘artist’ is primarily concerned with a pictorial effect: something perhaps intended to please the casual eye, or maybe summon up a memory or some other pleasant feeling.

‘Real’ painters may be concerned with this too but something much deeper is going on.  Those who enjoy real painting (verb) and real paintings (noun) will peer deeply into its heart to see the construction, the harmonies, the composition and the sheer physicality of the actual paint itself (the texture and ‘brushwork’.  Herein, I submit, lies real joy and satisfaction.

I stood beside people and showed them the way the work was created: some see it immediately, some get it, many do not or they are simply not interested.  Their interest starts and ends with pictures – the superficial surface effect – there is nothing wrong with this even though I regret it, if only because it means my paintings do not sell very well!

You might be drawn to a picture by its superficial character, a bit like one might find a pop song catchy at first even if it soon becomes irritating.  An awful lot of pictures are like that: you stop seeing them – they become wallpaper.  That won’t happen with a real painting because its depths are infinite and each viewer brings to it their own unique perspective.

In the arts, let’s briefly compare painting, which has prehistoric origins, with more modern media.  To read a book requires investment of time, as does listening to a piece of music, so why is a painting just glanced at?  It  always strikes me as odd because a painting, unlike the other two examples, is independent of time – you can stand mesmerised by it for ages, no pressure.  So why is it that most visitors look at a painting for about 5 seconds?  One study showed that in major galleries, viewers glance at a painting for less than two seconds, read wall text for 10 seconds, glance back at the painting to verify something, then move on to the next.

I’ll leave you with a couple of examples from paintings at Rosemoor to show the detail and texture which cursory viewing misses and leave you decide your own response. Thanks so much for reading this.


Detail of ‘Daffodils in a blue glass’, Oil on cardboard 76 x 53.5cm

Detail of  ‘Barn in a landscape with dancing figures’, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm

RHS Exhibition and Christmas Greetings

Just a chance to wish everyone a happy time this Christmas season.

Apologies if you’ve already seen this but it’s been such a difficult year, what with losing £15,000 to a building company than went bust after agreeing to convert my studio into a small dwelling and build a new one, I’m not too sure what I have done and haven’t! But we carry on: little money but lots of rain and mud, and good spirits (most of the time).

Thankfully there is always Art and Poetry.

EXHIBITIONx2 RHS Rosemoor.jpg

Please contact me direct for more information and/or visit my website https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/news.

New RHS Exhibition

Barn in a landscape with dancing figures, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm (1)Barn in a landscape with dancing figures, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm

Hallo,
Just to let you know that Eilean Eland and myself have an exhibition at RHS Rosemoor in the Exhibition Room opening this weekend, running through till January.

As you can see from the picture at the top, they are not all flower pieces this time, so if you are in or near North Devon please do come along. It would be great to see you, I’ll be there off and on, and if you’d like to meet up send me a note and I’ll make sure I’m there.

Additionally, the Winter Sculpture exhibition is also on and in the evenings there is the beautiful Glow event (see https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor/whats-on/rosemoor-glow for more details).

Hope you can make it
All good wishes for the Christmas season.

Richard

Gratitude, a two way thing.

With my visual art’scape barren, I’ve been writing a lot, having finished a trilogy of adventure stories for ‘grown-up children’ (that’s my category, so not, definitely not, ‘children’s fiction’) and writing mainly environmental poetry (some here) in which I find great solace away from the ravages being wrought on our poor little lonely planet by warmongers, wildlife abusers, religious zealots and industrial powerhouses… oh, let’s call that ‘civilisation’ shall we?

So, with my studio being dismantled (‘wrecked’ would be another word) and with little thought of painting especially since my portrait of the ‘February Girl’ was rejected for the summer exhibition by the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society, I was hit for six by finding I’d sold six paintings in one week; or rather, to be strictly truthful, sold 3 and bartered 3 (for a new studio roof, oh, I love bartering!). The three sold went to a collector in California – who already has one or two of my works.

Feb head, Oil on hardboard 41x30cm (2)            Feb head, Oil on hardboard 41x30cm (3)
Rejected Portrait of the February Girl, Oil on hardboard 41 x 30 cm (detail right).

I find it interesting that the three sold were from my last days in Cornwall, with the three bartered ones being more recent.

One of the sold ones was very dear to me, and I’m grateful it’s gone to a good home somewhere far away across the Atlantic – over which that studio looked – almost! It is ironic that literally right now, 20 years later, I’m having to destroy another studio, this one next door to Cornwall in Devon! Oh, life’s little ironies.

After receiving them, my Californian collector wrote the following words – which I quote with his permission. I’d like to share them because, a) it’s so rare for buyers to be quite so complimentary, and b) if his words help encourage other struggling non-standard artists to carry on so much the better. By ‘non-standard’ I mean in the sense of objective technique (knives, no brushes, wet into wet quickly) and not subject matter – which I accept (very happily) is as old as art itself.

These pieces are better and deeper than words can convey, though I will indeed attempt that task.
Thank you!
I wept at seeing them and then again at seeing them on my walls.
I had removed a few of my own pieces and put yours up.
God, they are just perfect!
I love them.
I adore them!
I can’t stop looking at them!
How much for the shipping?
Forgive me if you’ve already told me, but I don’t recall and want to get the total right.
They inspire me to collect more.
Thank you for letting me acquire these. They are magnificent. Their detail enthralls me.
DKN
These words are genuine. No fraudster or self-aggrandising artist would dare say such things about their own work, would they? When I thanked him and mentioned problems of work being assessed too hastily, he replied:
BTW, galleries are lame!
They don’t know poop!
ANY real curator will immediately see the importance of this work.
The fact that you’re getting rejected is good news! Eyes of the day CAN’T see important work. It takes heralding from pioneers. Remember that critics of the day crucified Jesus and assassinated Gandhi.
I will be writing more on your work over some great wine.
The three paintings he bought are here in small format; visible here in more detail.

If anyone is interested I’ll show and talk about the three bartered paintings another time. Do let me know, also anything else on ‘Leave a reply’ facility so that others can get a different perspective. I’m always really pleased to hear – it’s a lonely old business this.

Thanks for reading. I’m as grateful for DKN’s comments as he seems to be for the actual paintings, hence the title of this piece.

 

On not learning from history: The fate of the badger.

Sometimes events in your life collide…

In this case ecology and painting of the human figure

First…

On the history of the fate of the badger.

A new article just published in

The 

Home

 

Badger

https://theecologist.org/2019/mar/25/fate-badger

Please read, it is really important. Many thanks.

After that something completely different: a painting in a new exhibition… (see previous entry)