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)

 

 



 

Anthropocalypse apocalypse

Last night I dreamt the world was brown.
Lost in space.  Occupied only
By cockroaches and scorpions.
Gone from every city and town;
Gone from every ocean and sea;
And gone to hell all citizens.

So when our fragile planet dies,
It won’t be like the dinosaurs:
A death shadow from god knows where
Blotting out all heavens and skies
Clogging and desolating pores
To suffocate life far and near.

The clever ignoramus might
Betray to treason his own kind –
The once called Homo sapiens,
At least he thinks himself so bright.
What’s it capable of this mind
That would so invite its own ends?

Granma said “Too clever by half!”,
Aimed at myself over some girl.
But how wrong!  Not clever enough.
If only I could see the path
That led away from a pure world.
But alas for me far too tough.

One small man assesses the fright
And scratches his beard in turmoil.
The woman at his side groans and
Fears his anthropogenic plight.
What drives this brain to over-boil
Reduces her to wringing hands.

But it’s unfair that this should be
For it’s her children, and then theirs
Who will die of this human cess
Pit, who have no choice to be free.
It was ours that had too few cares,
Blazoning on madly careless.

The blank complacency of men
Will tolerate with mockery
A death cloud that’s pre-eminent;
And, aye, even more, his children
Confirms in me pomposity
And mocks the word ‘intelligent’.

Of all the living things worldwide
How strange it should be just our own –
The one species which perhaps should
Not – but which will bring ecocide.
Yes, human kind have for sure grown
Far too clever for their own good.

The cleverness which drives our lives,
Do not mistake it for wisdom.
Do not mistake intelligence.
In the businessman who survives.
And, yes, thrives within his kingdom,
By making money with no sense.

Did we think it would be all right?
Did we think it would not transpire?
Did we think techies could sort it?
Did we think it was out of sight?
Did we think it was not so dire?
Did we think it would not persist?

Yes, our leaders thought all those things.
Their lives were good, their wages fat.
They won’t be here to see the war.
To piss on their graves will not bring
Back all the wonderful life that
Garlanded this planet before.

Spinning in perpetuity,
Never to be replicated;
Unless we’re watched by jesters in
Some galactic laboratory
Pushing us until we are dead
Just to see which life-form would win.

This was what woke me fearfully:
A little planet still spinning –
Indescribably small and lost –
And over all, pathetically,
The golden sun still was blazing
All cellular green life to toast.

 © R.M. Meyer
Devon, December 2018
Dedicated to Emma

The nostalgia of prehistory.

Is ‘nostalgia’ a dirty word? Too close to sentiment? Well, if, as I believe, sentiment makes us human, it prevents all sorts of horrors. As a species we are all nostalgic for the past – I suppose it’s logically impossible to be nostalgic for anything else.

However, in ecology there’s something called the ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’ (SBS), which in its simplest terms means relating current perceptions to those of (our) childhood. Phrases such as, “In my day…” / “Time was when…” / “In the old days…” / “When I was a lad this used to be all fields round here.” And so on. In fact, this last demonstrates perfectly because if we could live as long as an Oak tree we might say “This used to be all forest round here” because of course fields came much later.

Whereas an ecologist or conservationist should be mightily conscious of SBS (though all too many are not) and should always be aware of how the NATURAL world (minus human influence) would be, I’m now more than happy, yea delighted, to doff my science hat to art and be utterly seduced by SBS, knowing no better.

When we think of art movements, most of us are seduced by Impressionism. After a difficult birth, never out of fashion, it remains to this day a fundamental part of our cultural awareness despite none of us being alive at its arrival. My own significant baseline comes a little after that. Post-impressionism and Expressionism are the art movements I most relate to. Perhaps because this is what my ever-so knowledgeable elder brother introduced me to before I knew anything about any other type of painting, save a jigsaw of a Monet painting of women in a garden.

So, I don’t know if this is why, eschewing all contrivance, I naturally paint the way I do even though I try at times not to.

My SBS seems to involve broken down old things (apologies to Mij, but she hopefully knows what I mean) – wrecks, tumbled down buildings, overgrown wild forgotten corners and weeds (about which, according to AA Milne, Eeyore once said “…are flowers too, once you get to know them.”), and my paintings are unpolished, turbulent and raw – a coming together of what I respond to and how I paint it.

A recent chat with Sue Austin http://www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk/sue-austin-home reminded me of just how much of a caveman I really am, and yet surely I’m only continuing a tradition which goes back to earliest human origins: making images on surfaces with minimal technology. It has lasted that long and will last a lot longer after all the cool technological have become obsolete.

The detail at the header is from one, and here are another two ‘Prehistorics’ being resurrected as oils on canvas..

Prehistoric 02, A memory of Sheelagh, Prehstoric                      Prehistoric 03, Cavewoman   

A memory of Sheelagh                                                Cavewoman

I’d already recognised my own remembered nostalgia for the feminine beauty of my youth – women or girls seen today as quaintly old-fashioned. The boy can’t help it but, never mind, I don’t mind if we regard them as “prehistoric”, so maybe all such works from now on should carry that prefix. I hope there are some others out there who, like me, find these enchanting and as relevant today as romantic impressionistic landscapes or the Downton Abbey syndrome. Happily, my models and some women friends do but I’m less sure about the men. Any thoughts anyone?

Portraits and Presentiment

 Portraits and presentiment (part 1)

        The Mij Oil on canvas 76x56cm 2          

The Mij, Oil on canvas 76x56cm

and

The Marmoset Oil on board 73x49cm 2

                                                                               The Marmoset, Oil on board 73x49cm                  

 Two new portraits presented themselves unbidden, and presented me in the process with renewed sombre misgivings about modern commercial art. [By ‘commercial’ I mean art produced for the marketplace] These misgivings conspired to see me destroying some old works, not because they haven’t sold but because they presented other misgivings: some technical and some personal. Since my first career was in zoological science, it’s perhaps relevant that curiosity weighs heavy with me.

That out of the way, portraiture must be the severest, most profound test of an artist (be they painter or sculptor) – something most avoid for its unforgiving and unrelenting scrutiny: of the practitioner of the model, of the beholder of the practitioner.

Over the last 12 months and more I’ve been debating with myself (there being no-one else really) about the path work takes and to where. You may (or may not) find these experiences a) interesting, b) helpful, c) provocative, d) irrelevant or e) just plain boring, so skip ahead if you don’t wish to read of someone else’s toils (but, as humans, don’t we enjoy some schadenfreude?!

2013 then is the background for a year of misfirings:

  1. My Structured Landscape exhibition produced all the inevitable doubts that such ventures always produce – one could do, think, arrange, select, price, publicize and invite better etc;
  2. The loss in early February of a dear friend & collaborator on some books, the great bird illustrator Malcolm Ellis              Paradise Park Garden Party 08vi06 3
  3. A disappointing talk to North Devon Arts at The Broomfield Sculpture Park fell well below the standards I’d normally set myself; for some reason, the slides in transfer to their computer got muddled, which doesn’t sound disastrous in itself but the thumbnails were displayed on the enormous screen while we re-ordered them – a bit of a spoiler which took time to correct meaning I had to cut out some hilarious (or so I like to imagine) anecdotes;
  4. This was followed by the misfiring (for me but it would seem for no-one else) of Open Studio Art Trek;
  5. Then there were laborious preparations (e.g. thematic, selection, doubt, framing, pricing) for my Autumn show The Constructed Female at The Plough Arts Centre, and the incomprehension and misunderstanding it seemed to create for some;
  6. Distressing and disturbing ecological consultancy duties involving (inevitably) the slaughter of badgers  – which I’m unable to avoid, and consequent on those…
  7. … thwarted attempts to reprint my 1986 book The Fate of the Badger (Batsford) despite some demand from affected caring people;
  8. My novel The Children Who Wouldn’t …http://t.co/mHsyDbdQXP was published. I think at least 10 people have read it, or at least bought it (for an impressive 77p, 99c in the US – and I just got a royalty statement from Amazon USA for 36p, mind you they withheld .12p for tax, I trust they spend it wisely). To top these distractions …
  9. there’s been a frustrating and disillusioning failure to find a venue for an altruistic exhibition of 12 paintings of 1940s pin-up ‘Land Girls’, done with the co-operation of some lovely mums in Cheshire, to help raise funds for ‘Help For Heroes’ or some other human warfare related charity. This I’d optimistically hoped to arrange to coincide with Centenary Commemorations this November – which is now highly unlikely.

While some of these tribulations are amusing and petty they conflate to such an extent that I found myself in the deepest doldrums since emerging blinking from a 5 year PhD in Glasgow and an ensuing short but disillusioning career teaching in Primary Schools and one ghastly private school. [Can doldrums be deep? Perhaps I’m just a lousy teacher]. The thesis, incidentally, of >300 pages, ca.100,000 words and gawd knows how many tables, figures and statistics remains I imagine unread and unused apart from by my sponsors www.paradisepark.org.uk/choughs. [The RSPB cannot even acknowledge its existence.] Of course it was not all awful, I had a good and rewarding year working in Cornish schools for the RSPCA, and a delightful two years lecturing and getting up and running a new FE College outpost in the grounds of Paignton Zoo, Devon.

However, outweighings prompted re-evaluation; so I destroy old work and find furious cathartic satisfaction in it.  All of which brings me back to the portraits – inevitably a substantial element in The Constructed Female exhibition.

The two portraits I mentioned at the top had an underlying cause – partly to convince myself after nearly a year of scant activity that I could still paint. The first was of a model from Cheltenham who contacted me via Twitter, and has since become an engaging and feisty ally, and the second of the beautiful and long-suffering Mij whom I have of course painted many times and who has crept unbidden into other portraits (or so I’m told by people; and they can see it and I can’t).

What I can see (and maybe what I can’t) follows.

Portraits and presentiment (part 2)

 Portraits, so I’m told by gallery owners, are virtually unsellable. I think this is disingenuous nonsense! To back up such a bold rebuttal, I cite the case of the Fowey River Gallery www.foweyrivergallery.co.uk who told me this but took one anyway. It was this one

 Naomi Oil on wood 43.bmp

Portrait of Naomi, Oil on wood 43.5 x 48.5cm

They phoned me in Wales the following day to say “Guess what? It’s sold! A young couple saw it, went away, had lunch, came back and said they couldn’t live without it” (verbatim because it’s a conversation I shan’t forget). Galleries guard their client list with a zeal that would do credit to Vladimir Putin’s police so I’ve never found out who they were but hope they still enjoy it. Even so, Fowey wouldn’t take another, but this was ten years ago, perhaps they might now.

Anyway, back to the premise. As I said in Part 1 my training (such as it was) was in wildlife zoology with an emphasis on sexual dimorphism and the captive breeding of rare and endangered fauna, so it seems obvious to me that biologically and ethologically the human face is central to our understanding of the human condition.  We scan and study our own and everyone else’s without realising it, picking up and processing the tiniest inflections. Intrigued, entranced, attracted and repelled by each in turn. How can we not be interested in the painted portrait, which is always a double portrait – that of subject and artist?

Disabusing this, people say something like, “But I don’t know them” thereby implying that they might be more interested if it was a likeness of someone they knew, or of course, better still, a family member. So what is going on?  Obviously we might like to have around us images of ‘loved ones’ but since we can admire a landscape or a still-life without ‘owning’ or even knowing it at first hand, why are we put off by the image of another human being?

Not always of course for we respond positively to a Rembrandt or van Gogh (self-)portrait, a Leonardo, a Matthew Smith, a Chaim Soutine, an Auerbach, a Hockney… and the list could go on and on.  Is it merely then that a portrait painted by someone famous is acceptable while one by an unknown (however good) is not?  No art aficionado, only a dealer, would admit this so one is left to ruminate on a determining factor. Is it simply that gallery owners are a conservative non-risk-taking lot and they simply believe that buyers do not like portraits, and will not buy them? As a self-fulfilling prophecy this takes some beating. But since I called Rembrandt as a witness, let’s return to quality.

Oh, I so hope this is the final arbiter, because then there’s hope. Quality is the touchstone: any artist worthy of the name aspires to it; and always before the grubby ephemeral of “Will it sell?”

So, I want ‘galleries’ to be worthy of the name they assume. A gallery should never be just a picture shop, though that is sadly what many are.  Yes, they have to be financially solvent but alongside that (and are the two mutually exclusive?) it is their duty to present Fine Art to the public. If they don’t where on earth’s high street, can we find honesty and truth mingling with spine-tingling beauty and forensic enquiry?

Landscape, Figure and Natural Beauty (from March 2011)

Vincent van Gogh is best known for the fabulous brutal landscapes but he said in a letter to his faithful brother Theo in 1882, “Much as I love landscape, I love figures even more.”  This interests me because I also began besotted by landscape and nature and thought it was down to a past life embroiled in wildlife conservation that always kept at bay the human figure.  Eventually though they came to merge in my ‘Figurescape’ series.  And by and by this became more central.  Perhaps an example of the evolution necessary to progress.

T-figscape, Oil on hardboard 60.5 x 75.5cms

T-figscape, Oil on hardboard 60.5×75.5cm

I can see more clearly now how Cezanne ended up painting his strange huge Bathers.

Today, in a curious coming together of disparate things (not so curious really because it happens all the time, we just don’t always notice), reading the always excellent Paul Evans’ Country Diary in The Guardian, I came across this throwaway sentence, “Natural beauty lies in the unexpected relationship between things.”  That could be one definition of Ecology, it is certainly a definition of how I regard the creation of Art.  So here in a small nutshell is a good working stab at the meaning of life.

For more see http://www.meyergallery.co.uk