Friday, November 18, 2011

Of Angels...

While I've been working on this.....
.....I had some Gregorian Chant from Prinknash Abbey playing on my old tape player. This particular recording has the plainsong in Latin on one side and English on the other. It was a particular chant about an angel kneeling at the altar praying alongside the singer. It conjured up an image of a religious at his/her devotions being joined by an angel, not as a superior being but an equal.The Roman Catholic Church has some beautifully worded liturgy involving angels from those guarding us as we sleep to conveying us to the heavenly grace after death.The French 19th century painter, William Adolphe Bourgereau illustrates this well.
 It is a romantic image of its day but I like it none-the-less for that.
So what are these angels? They feature very strongly in the psyche. They can be manifested as winged beings or as in the Far East, Bodhisattvas.
The word "angel" stems from the Greek αγγελός, - angelo, meaning "messenger". Hermes was one such in Ancient Greek legend, he had winged feet and may be the forerunner of our current era image of a winged being. As an interesting aside Nike of Samothrake is a winged being but purports to being a deity rather than an angelos.

But  angels are more than mere messengers. Some act as guardians as depicted in the story of Tobit and the Angel , while others serve as celestial musicians or even as warriors.
Some of us like to believe we have a personal guardian angel. This idea is given credence in Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius". The words of this great choral work are taken from a poem written by Cardinal John Henry Newman . In it he describes how an angel had been given personal charge over the soul's safety and was responsible for bringing it to meet God. The link is to a lengthy poem but worth taking the time to read.

Do we have personal guardian angels? Do they even exist?

I have known times when it seemed there was someone/thing watching over me. There have been times when I've done something that was not quite right and sensed a watching being overcome with sadness or disappointment. Things have happened where I should not have survived, yet did. There have been times when I felt vulnerable and somehow sensed a re-assuring presence. I'm sure I'm not alone in all this. Do we have personal angels? I don't know.
Do they exist? Science can now demonstrate that much of what we take to be holy manifestations are in fact mental constructs manufactured by our own brains. Perhaps it is a survival mechanism. Perhaps the scientists are right, but when we look deeper, after all the imagery has been reasoned away, there's still something. 
"Photea, Angel of Light" from my sketchbook. An idea that may evolve into a painting as part of the myth and legend series.
A figment of my imagination. And yet, and yet.....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

That "challenge" and other work

"The Offering".
The carving stage of this challenging piece now complete and repairs to shrinkage cracks done. I've left it like this for the time being while I get on with other stuff. I want to be absolutely sure the wood has at last settled down before moving on to waxing and polishing. Before that, there's more work needed on the repair itself to make it a bit less visible. It has stood in this corner of the studio over a week now and so far its looking good.

Currently, I'm making a series of figures intended to sit in wall-mounted boxes like the one shown here and featured with other work on my website. This particular piece called "Introspection" was shown in a recent exhibition, Narrative Pieces. The box is about 16" tall.
One  piece I'm making is a female figure standing as if leaning with her back to the wall, one foot resting against it and her arms extended upwards. The clay maquette will give some idea of what I have in mind.
Carving started in the middle of last week and has kept me busy for now.
At around 3-00 pm. today I stopped for a cup of tea. Actually I take several cups of tea during my time in the studio. I think its safe to say Luneside Studios runs on tea!  I didn't merely stop to have a quick slurp, I needed to step back and assess how things are going. Much of the time this figure has been worked on lying down so I arranged it in a standing position by fixing it to an upright post. An anglepoise lamp served to provide some side-lighting.

She stands some 12" (30 cm) tall and her extended arms make the entire figure about 14" (35 cm) tall. In the context shown here she looks more like a martyr from Renaissance imagery than the  more peaceful image I have in mind. There's a fair bit of work to be done yet.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Journey to the Temple

It is early Sunday morning and three of us make the car journey to Rochdale Zen Retreat, a temple within the OBC tradition. As the address on the link shows, Rochdale is something of a misnomer. It was originally sited there but subsequently moved to Horwich, just north of Manchester and is now at Little Hoole, just south of Preston.
My friend drove me from Lancaster down the M6 and we made a detour across the Fylde to pick up another friend at Lytham.
It was a lovely and clear if cold morning as we journeyed there. Lapwings  gathered in the low-lying fields and overhead we saw two large skeins of swans making their almost casual flight inland in characteristic vee- formation. A low flying heron flapped lazily  in the opposite direction only a few feet above the ground following the riverbank. The Fylde is relatively flat but one or two low lying hills that projected above the rising ground mist gave the impression of something much larger.
After picking up the third member our little trio  headed for the Ribble estuary and skirting the outer edges of Preston entered another area of flatland, the Leyland Hundred. This is ancient flatland whose history stretches back to Saxon times and is indeed recorded in the Domesday Book. It extends almost as far south as Liverpool. Our destination at Little Hoole is in a delightful rural setting. Its hard to believe it sits right on Preston's urban doorstep.
After meditation, a Dharma talk and a cup of tea we headed back home in the afternoon sunshine stopping at a drive-in MacDonald's near a marina on the Ribble . Tea and sandwiches completed a pleasant and uplifting day out.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Of dogs and dreams

When my daughter is working a full day, my wife and I take it in turns to walk her dog . My wife usually does the morning walk and I do the afternoon one. This happens a couple of times a week on average.
 This is Tai, my canine companion who loves to catch sticks, run away with them then drop them at my feet obliging me to throw  once again. He is a Staffie/Labrador cross who lives for play. But there are times when he's content to simply walk,sniffing around and leaving a scent mark here and there. One of his favourite routes (and mine) is a circuit from his home and taking in Fairfield Orchard where he meets other canine friends.

In the centre of this orchard is a semi-circle of tree stumps, a sort of installation which I suppose can be anything you want it to be.
For me its a source of inspiration. It reminds me of a sort of "court" where, apart from trials taking place, it could be a high court of kings or guardians of secret places or a tribal council seat. The list can be endless. Something along the lines of the guardians of the Grail come to mind as in Wagner's Parzifal.
However, such legends are not the exclusive realm of early European Christianity, consider Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example the Council of Elrond not to mention the Arthurian legends. I could go on.....

I first came across this semi-circle some years before on a (dog-less) walk. It inspired an idea that culminated in......
"The Guardians".
Seven figures standing  12 inches  high and one kneeling figure, all  on a base 18 inches square. I envisioned this as a life-size or larger-than-life-sized group located in a forest with an easy access path but  sited in such a way that one would come across it by surprise. The passage of time would have it overgrown with moss giving a more fantasy-like aspect .

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Its like Fairyland

I took delivery of some boxes for an ongoing project today. The project is of small sculptures in wall-mounted boxes, rather like figures in recesses that you can see in some churches.
Here's some I made earlier. They featured in my exhibition, "Narrative Pieces" last June through July. There are more like this in the proverbial pipeline.
The current batch of boxes were made by a friend of mine who brought his two daughters along while delivering them. They walked into my studio space and the look of awe and wonder was really something to behold. I don't think they've ever seen a sculptor's studio before.
"Its like fairyland." one of them exclaimed.
I suppose it is, - even if it is a bit dusty.