December 11, 2013 § 3 Comments
We wish you the seasons greetings of love and joy and peace.
Christmas came early for us this year. We got together in the past couple of days before Sollai and Danica flew away to Fiji and Jake and Jaqueline disappeared into a meditation retreat in the mountains. We made haste on the roads from Ireland, the UK and France, to arrive back here in time to see them all. In celebration, we all piled into our little mountain house in Pieve di Monti di Villa, the house like toast, the fires lit and a little table for six squeezed into our lounge. The colours of our mountain house are so warm and earthy and the open fire crackling away, keep a feeling of a cold winter’s day, a delicious contrast. After a simple lunch of hot bubbling soup from the wood stove, we walked up the mountain in the bracing cold but sunny air, along tiny tracks past the ancient crossifisso to Monti di Villa with its stupendous views of the Alps and the Apenines. We sat for a time in a sunlit glade near an old ruined church above Monti di Villa, then slowly ambled home in the gathering dark to prepare a sumptuous feast.
These days for Christmas we have all eschewed the giving of presents, not because we don’t like them or want to give them, but because we wanted to leave behind the commercial stress and pressure of gift giving at this time of year. Now we just eat and drink the best we can find and love being together. Christmas is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it remains a wonderful time of year to celebrate humanity and our connection to the seasons in the cold short days of the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice, and of course in the southern hemisphere, the midsummer.
It was beautiful that night. We sat around the fire after our indulgences and talked about the wonderful year we had all created. I think this year was perhaps one of the most creative years any of us had ever had. I begin to write about it all, but the pages are flowing and this post would be a book! Plus, we sound so insanely proud of our talented kids and their equally talented partners, that I had better stop here! So if you would like to see what we have all been doing, please go to all of our websites to see new art being created, new music, new performances, an art festival being created, our artist group La Rondine Gallery, new acrobatics…. Links are following! Our best wishes to you all!
November 29, 2013 § 8 Comments
Our hearts sang for joy. It had all been so grim and dark on our voyage home from Ireland. All across England the sky lowered upon us and the nights we stayed were pitch. Arriving in the north of France the temperature sank below zero and we moved south along the autoststrada stopping intermittently at ugly service stations that served un-France like food and in a town called Troyes we stayed in an awful Ibis business hotel that killed our spirits for its very serviceable practicality that had no room for beauty – who was the designer for these hotels? Turn key operation is ok, but humans need humanity…
Then as we were driving along the next day in the early afternoon, yesterday, south of Lyon, a glimmer of light lit the sky on the horizon and through the afternoon it opened wider and wider the further south we went. Joy oh joy. You can’t help but respond so hopefully to light, The countryside became lighter too and soon we were near the sea and finally there – La Ciotat. How gorgeous to be here in this marvellous town once again. We are staying in a funny cheap little hotel called the Malta Cross, lovely people, right near the port, where they used to make big ships. All the big old cranes are still there and the port is filled with all sorts of boats, restaurants on the water front, the temperature at 16 degrees, a vast improvement from the north at minus 2, and people were swimming lazily in the sea. Too beautiful to resist having a pastis on a sunny terrace overlooking it all.
But the most wonderful of all is the amazing terrain in the mountains above La Ciotat and Cassis. This afternoon we took the route des Cretes over the limestone mountains, white, fissured and holey, spotted with hardy little plants clinging for dear life to the small amount of soil there was. This is the area of the Calanques, ancient furrowed river and creek beds that became sea inlets when the waters rose. They are like gorges to enter and can often only be entered by sea as there are restrictions in the summer due to fire danger on land.
Our destination was Cap Croissette in the Calanques of Marseille. We wound our way from Cassis and through the outer suburbs of Marseille down to the sea and through an old fishing settlement to the point. It was wild and windswept and completley spectacular. Our hearts were in our mouths with this strange wild white beauty, the landscape a language of twirls and dots and dashes, the sea the deepest blue, the horizon mystical in the low light and evening mist. We have to return one day soon with a mobile studio, stay here for weeks and immerse ourselves in this southern land on the edge of another sea.
You might enjoy having a look at this old movie ‘Train Arriving at La Ciotat’ by the Lumiere brothers. When it was shown, it is said that people ran to the back of the theatre, believing they would be run over by the train!
November 27, 2013 § 9 Comments
We are driving on our way back home to Italy and thought we’d share some of the artwork, drawings and paintings, that we did in Cill Rialaig, Ireland. Thank you Cill Rialaig Art Project!!!
You may also like to read the other two posts on Cill Rialaig too:
Please click on the images for detail
November 25, 2013 § 7 Comments
It is wild. It has all been wild. The weather is tempestuous and volatile, changing quickly from a sunny bright blue day to brooding glowering storms and to dense heavy grey fog that submerge the land into nothing, all in one day and all within hours. The ground is sodden and covered in bright orange bracken or bold bright green grass, soft and lush for the sheep with their coats of several painted colours. There are many sheep in these craggy hilltops. They merge with the rocks, once the colour of liver, now white with old lichen. Collected over the centuries, the never ending supply of rocks have partly become a lacework of walls flowing organically over the hillsides and down onto the cliff edges of the sea, containing a vivid patchwork of green and orange lit by turbulent skies.
It has been amazing here. I think you need the full month to get the full benefit from this experience. We could have left many times earlier. We got ‘over’ it, thought we had already ‘got’ it, but here we were, everyday clambering the same hills, thinking we had already ‘done’ this, and yet another revelation would come, another strange connectness to nature and the ancient past and an opening of the creative spirit to discover new doorways for our art. It is at first hard to appreciate the lack of distractions as at first you actually miss them. Long nights reading or writing or playing a game or talking when normally you might watch a movie or work on the internet or socialize. The change of habits has been great for our art as we only seem to talk about our art or this strange land we are immersed in. Hours are spent investigating, imagining ancient peoples, reinventing how they saw the world and in those imaginings, days have disappeared without once thinking about our normal living.
Noelle Campbell-Sharpe is a larger than life character who, famous in Ireland for her entrepreneurship and her wildish ways, has devoted the last twenty years to saving this small patch of coastline for artists to come and retreat from life. In amongst the ruins of cottages over the centuries are the ruins of the monks who came here after they left the skelligs around 1000 AD, their bones buried in the much older megalithic round houses or forts. Noelle has bought all the ruined cottages in the more recent pre-famine Cill Rialaig village and is in the process of transforming them into accommodation for artists creating a trust and protecting the area from the ruinous stamp of tourism and growth.
We read some great books while we were here, The Chalice and the Blade, written by Riane Eisler and The Megalithic Empire, co written by M. J. Harper and H.L. Vered. They were so appropriate for this part of remote farmland almost untouched by modern civilization at lands edge. The scars and marks of megalithic society are still here, and one senses the great mother of the neolithic societies still in the round forts and farmers homes, the little dome houses surrounded by their round protective walls and the sweeping curves of the entrances, even the ancient stone fences add another ring to the spiral, womblike. We found standing stones at the entrance to the ancient village above us on the hill, all the homes round, rings of foundation stones everywhere. We read that the neolithic society who lived here were traders so it made sense that there were ley lines reaching from these villages on the sea, from the Skelligs Michael, small islands near us where monks retreated in 500 AD., to Mount Carmel near Jerusalem passing through Mont Saint Michel in France and Monte Gargano in southern Italy (from where the knights Templar departed for the holy land). The ancients mined copper and gold and maybe even trained and traded crows! Crows are said to have been trained to fly in a straight line and for this they were used on the pre christian celtic trading ships, kept in the ‘crows nest’ . The crows were set free when the sailors thought they were near land, noting the direction the birds flew in, and if they returned, there was no land…
I’m afraid this time around our art was not influenced by sheep or crows, worthy though they are. But perhaps because we were so engaged in the neolithic world we saw ourselves in, our art had to capture some of the philosophy of those people. As we walked in this landscape on the edge of the great sea, the elements of wind and rain and sun our constant companions, we began to feel the oneness of it all. We did not feel more or less than nature, just part of it. There was a great feeling of impartiality, that nothing was greater than life itself. There was a great sense of reverence for life and the dearest wish to protect the earth and preserve it from greed and senseless consumerism. The wish to make life grow, in the same way of those neolithic people with their wisdom of the earth, their home.
November 19, 2013 § 4 Comments
We arrived on the weekend of the great storm. When we woke in the morning we could barely restrain the door of the house as it leapt out of our hands. The waves on the cliffs below were spiraling high into the sky, the wind skimming the tops of the waves, gathering its plunder into walls and towers before it was thrown back down into the sea in wild abandon. We danced with excitement on the top of the cliffs outside the little cottages of Cill Rialaig and with adrenalin high in the racing wind, we took off up the narrow road towards Bolus Head, the rain and wind simultaneously wetting and drying us as we bowed beneath it. Then the unimaginable happened, just as we began talking to another walker, the wind suddenly scooped low and hard and lifted us off our feet, airborne, and threw us with unyielding force back onto the road, pushing us on uncontrolled feet and clutching useless hands, into the rock walls whereupon the other walker and I fell on top of each other into a ditch, soft with muck and tussocks of grass. Mike at the last moment managed to catch hold of the wire fence where he clung for dear life till the wind’s attention went else where…. Nature. My feeling of great connection and exuberance simmered into brooding caution and fearful respect and I tottered home suspicious of every gust, stiff and sore.
We are in Cill Rialaig, artists in residence in one of the seven available pre-famine cottages for artists on the cliffs of the Atlantic and off the ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. So wild and so beautiful. We have been here before, 15 years ago. We came with Sollai while Jake was at his school for gifted young musicians in America. We thought a sojourn here would be closer to Jake if he needed us and in the meantime we would create and be inspired in this amazing environment. We loved the residency so much, we rented a house for four extra months in the same area after the residency finished and developed a great series of our work, Mike on the Vikings and me on the Skellig Monks.
It’s a tough time of year to be here, but we were here fifteen years ago during the same period and we have been waxing lyrical for the past fifteen years on the extraordinary light during the winter period and we wanted to experience it again. How lucky are we! Here in this magical light, the air so clean and up here on the cliffs, the weather patterns before us are constantly changing, emptying out and refilling with light and grey and black and aqua and gold and pink, tipping the crests of the water with silver and creaming up the sky under blue black clouds, piercing rays of the whitest light searing the water and touching sodden cliff horizons with a golden edge.
We walk for a few hours every day, drawing and painting as we go, up into the hills through prickly wet paddocks, clambering over fences and rocks. We have found two of the most amazing ring forts, and have wandered over them, mapping their abodes and tunnels and entrances and burial places. One of the ring forts, for sure, is an ecclesiastical abode with the enclosed burial ground outside the main circular building, a standing stone bearing the insignia of Christianity. The other one, in the hills above our little village, looks like a farmer’s home and it is in sight of the other ecclesiastical fort. It has what looks like a chase that runs alongside the home paddock and up over the hill top where four standing stones, sentinels of varying height, seem significantly inline with the islands of the two kings in the sea.
One day, on one of our walks, sheep were grazing on the succulent grass on the edge of the road, scattering as we came near, except for one, solid and muscular this sheep was a ram and he glanced balefully at us, his body rigid, his lip curling and ripples of flesh creasing up over his nose. I could feel that age old sensation of danger up and down my spine, but he let us pass and I knew once again how out of touch I was with earth. Sometimes we are so civilized, we become too safe and sanitized, our instincts become neutralized and our language of our experiences is about how beautiful it all is without any real respect for the deep primal wildness in its essence. I feel the touch of the wild here. I am not comfortable at all. But I feel deeply, passionately alive. It is great for my art. My work is in an uncomfortable state of transition. Is it good? Will it be good? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. I am creating and it is all fodder for the best work to come.
November 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
We have been invited as artists in residence for the month of November in one of Cill Rialaig’s seven small cottages in Ballinskelligs, just off the ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Penisnsula. Our transition from Pietrasanta in Italy to Ireland took us by road through Torino in Italy and under the great mountain range and through the middle of France to Cherbourg, where we were to take the ferry to Rosslare in Ireland. It was a wonderful small journey of several days and I have taken one of Mike’s letters to family and friends to share on the blog.
We are here. They say Ireland has changed but it is still wet, still green and still dishes up the most spectacular skies.
We arrived on the ferry into Rosslare Port after a peaceful overnight voyage from Cherbourg. The day before we left, we were on the D Day coast of Normandy, it was quite a horrible feeling, everywhere was the reminder of war and pointless deaths and heroic acts by young men just trying to stay alive.
We stayed in the seaside village of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain and walked along its high cliffs with the zig zagging of the german trenches between us and the direct drop onto the spotless wide sandy beaches.
We have visited some amazing towns in France after leaving wonderful Billom. On our first day we drove to the little ancient hill town of Usson, all built of dreary black stone, a plaque on the wall reminding all of the mass slaughter of the Hugenots for not changing their religion.
There is always a dilemma when travelling through spectacular villages filled with amazing history; you want to stop and stay at each place for the day at least, to drink its local wine, taste their cheeses, sit and have a Pastis, but there is this boat to catch and we can’t miss it so we reluctantly push on. We found a little village squeezed into the crevasse of rocks, Saint-Floret, they were preparing one of the rooms of the old castle for a town meeting so the door was open, we went in, it was the old war room. Ancient fresco paintings depicting glorious kills on the battle fields. The colors amazingly fresh. Some hours later after a long drive we found a great little hotel, B&B really, run by a gorgeous friendly, and typically French lady. It was off the road and we found it by following the many signs through the ancient Roman Gallo village of Drevant and along the side of the Berry canal all with perfectly kept lawns and what seemed to be beautiful parklands.
After a long flat drive through the Central of France we arrived at Loches where there are ancient canal lochs and an amazing castle for the king of France all built in the white tufo stone, immaculate and precise. It is the town where Joan of Arc got the blessing of the king to go off and get an army at Chinon and start her own story of war and fighting.
We really had not got far and we were starting to wonder if we would miss the boat, we were now in the Loire valley with even more distraction of beauty and stories, so after seeing Chinon where Richard the Lion Heart had also visited and got an arrow in the neck for his efforts there, we got on the freeway and went to the D Day coast!
Ireland: We were told the drive from Rosslare Port to our art residency would be 3 hours, it took 5, we arrived at night, late and after an horrific bouncing drive over the never repaired road of the Ring of Kerry, frustrated, we got to Bail en Skeilig. Everything was shut down for the night so we did what any Irish would do, we went to the pub to get help. A crescent shape group of nuggety men were sitting around the bar. We ordered our pint of well earned guiness and asked if anyone knew who we were to meet for our stay here, of course they did and within 10 minutes it was arranged.
“You have been here before”, the voice on the phone said, ” ya know how it works!”
“But that was 15 years ago” I pleaded.
So with some persuasion he told me we were in cabin 5, which used to be cabin 2 and the key is under the stone. Well if you have ever been here you would know that there is nothing else but stones, so which stone! We settled down to our beer feeling a wee bit flat, and then we noticed the men all talking and laughing, but in what language? Is it Irish… and then we heard something that sounded like a word we may use, and then some minutes later another. They were speaking English! They were sitting back, arms crossed, not opening their mouths but speaking through stout sodden whiskers with a major accent and joining all the words together to make one great long mysterious sound. And then our ear tuned into this chaos of words and we realised they were talking about the merits of different religions, of course! And what is the difference between Catholics and Protestants, and one of them was happy to accept all religions, Muslims and all; ‘ and even those Jewish folk’. We looked at each and couldn’t stop laughing – we were here, we were in Ireland.
We are sitting on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, the night we arrived greeted us with a major storm so in the morning we put on our coats and went for a walk up the old road towards Bolus Head. The sea spray occasionally hitting us like rain, the wind so strong. We had just stopped to talk to another artist, Irish, also on the walk, when the wind gusted and blew us off the ground, I grabbed onto the wire fence next to me. Shona is in the the gutter with the other artist on top of her, we were all stunned, sprained and sore so we headed back to our little thatched roof home.
It is beautiful here, it peaceful and it is time to reconnect to our inner being, to the land and the universe (now believed to be a multiverse).
November 5, 2013 § 7 Comments
I must write about this magical month in October before I forget. Our life goes so fast sometimes, I forget to take note of the extraordinary experiences we have and that are wonderful to share.
We just spent 4 weeks in the old medieval town of Pietrasanta where we carved in studio Shakti in the industrial marshland, walking into town each morning for our coffee and brioche, the pedestrian streets echoing in the early morning as we briskly made our way to the great piazza, home to Michaelangelo for a few years as he wandered the mountains searching for beautiful stone. He found the most beautiful statuario in Mont’ Altissimo, in the mountains above Pietrasanta, and opened a quarry there. It is truly amazing to be in the history of this original Roman town, that for centuries has had artists coming to make their sculptures in the many dusty studios, working with the artigiani; experienced craftsmen who could point up the model from an artist better than the artist, and execute the idea with truth to the artist, the great artists’ friend.
We lived at the studio in a small apartment, all day and all night the noise of machines in the surrounding studios and factories, churning and cutting the marble for facades of buildings, copies of old sculptures, kitchen benches and tiles, facades of pillars; the great inners discarded after the veneer was peeled off, a tragic loss of mountains slowly disappearing into the terrible maw of consumerism, temporary but forever gone.
The Shakti studio is very basic, but lovely with its great old Mediterranean pines towering over the makeshift sheds, catering for artists working here short term and mostly working with smallish pieces. You bring your own tools and you can work with the supplied air or by hand. There is no lifting apparatus, though the guys in the studio next door will come in and move your piece if it is too heavy with their little crane truck. You can buy your marble from these guys too. There are also artigiani wandering in and out, willing to work for the artists if they need their stone cut out in readiness for the finer work. One lady we met was so delighted with what the artigiani could do, she employed one of them full time, and simply told him what she wanted, asking him to be more graceful here, and more elegant there, I think she was innocent of her appropriation, but she annoyed a few of the artists for her shamelessness… In the studio next door an exquisite sculpture of two figures, one carried by the other, and destined for a British museum, had taken six months for the artigiani to point up from the artist’s model. We were there in its final days of finishing, and, the artist not in sight, but his orders were explicit, for the sculpture to be highly polished, lucido. Before the polishing, but finished if you chose, the light had entered the sculpture so that it was luminous and unbearably sensuous. Days later we went back, devastated to see the sculpture in its finished state, polished and plastic, the delicacy of form gone into slick hardness that could have been a white gloss resin.
I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life. From 8.30 in the morning till lunchtime, and an hour or two’s break and then till 6.30 at night. All day. I fell into bed each night and became entirely useless, I couldn’t clean or make a meal. We had our lunch at the Croce Verde in Pietrasanta and thank goodness for that because we ate really well, and then basically nothing of an evening, too tired to muster energy other than for a pecorino cheese sandwich which we thought was manna from heaven sloshed down with local red wine. I loved it. I loved finding my stone. It was the first time I had ever carved marble and I loved the process. My first piece I worked with from a model that I had originally cast in bronze. It equally suited marble. Finding the stone became the first step in the seduction process and then haggling for the price, knowing you’ll pay too much because you want it so much. Michael was my teacher, he knows me so well, he wasn’t in there at every moment, allowing me to find my way, but there to let me know when to change tools, helping me with the cutting, teaching me to listen to the stone, pulling me past frustration. It was wonderful. The process was wonderful, because bit by bit, as you got beyond the raw stone and refined its surface, you took the piece to be your own, you gave it its life, you allowed its inner light to shine. And shine it does. The light of the stone is so beautiful and I am sure the in-loveness you feel imparts something else that is symbiotic with life. It was also wonderful to continue the process till the end under your own hand. It makes you consider the surface more because it is not lost through another process.
It was four beautiful weeks together, devoted solely to our art. Our conversation was about art and our development and growth in our work. We forgot the outer world of busyness, totally immersed in the passion of seeing things differently. It was the great retreat into ourselves and Mike emerged with beautiful bird forms that had become the mother over her nest which was the universe or the cosmos, her great form shadowing the egg like planets immersed in the ether. My work in marble is spinning off the cycladic influences of neolithic art, loving the mother, loving the duality of male and female, finding a way back to a place in ourselves that honoured life and the earth.