Light, Placement

Japanese Garden 1 (Dublin), 2004 - taken from Glasgow Print Studio Archive

Yesterday I went with my dad and D to an exhibit of the works of Elizabeth Blackadder. She is in her eighties now, and, in the video at the end of the exhibit seemed heartfelt, tongue-tied, surrounded by the curated objects of her life, and by flowers (her other, more well known subject matter). This print above is one of my favourites of hers, and I have been thinking about why.

As you can probably infer from the title of this post, it’s to do with the light and placement in the picture. How the dark grey of the sky melts into lightness, but is still firmly divided from the snow covered earth. The luminous quality. The placement of scratchy circular lines around the stones, and the distance of the stones from one another. The dividing screen forming both a link between garden and sky, and a shelter for the viewer to stand behind – a limit to the landscape, perfectly judged, imperfectly rendered in slightly wonky lines.  It’s to do with the tiny gilt touches on the black fencing – drawing the eye, but not too much. A trust in the viewer to notice, a tip in the scale of things, a fleck of luxuriant colour in an otherwise austere scene.

Fifeshire Farm (1960), taken from Tate.org

Another of her prints tackles a larger scene – the fertile farmland of the Kingdom of Fife on the East Coast of Scotland. In opposition to the carefulness of the first picture, here is all wildness in frantic motion – a wind seems to shake through the black trees, the colour of the earth rushes, crumbles, licks into the roofs of byre or house.

At this time of year, when it is so dark, when there is a sense of holding ones breath in wait for the new year as if it will never come, these paintings suggest a kind of kinship with winter, darkness, winds (gales buffeting us here, yesterday, possibly today but I haven’t risked poking my head out the window yet), the possibility of fat cold rain outweighing the likelihood of a breaking sky, a return ever of the crystalline or verdant.

I have to relate this to my writing too: that, nearing the beginning of the end of the draft (I’d give a word total, but it would only be for my benefit, and not really meaningful) I long for the betterment of my sentences and a crispness and fruitfulness that for course can’t and shouldn’t be there in the text just yet.  Right now, I must see the value in having the bones, the stark branches, all lying out. And in the sense of possibility – a sudden blast might metaphorically tear off the roof of Aida’s cabin, or sweep her to her country, before I expected that to happen. I can’t know quite yet how things will place themselves of the page –  like the progressive inching of frost or the weight of snow – or whether, what this time will do to the text. Bring the weight of an absence of colour, or a chill, brooding space where the words can breathe.

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10 Comments

Filed under consolations of writing, Edinburgh, The Millenial, Theory

10 responses to “Light, Placement

  1. Helen,
    This, this! Your timing is impeccable. I am nearing the end as well and as much as yours is the bones, I daresay mine is tthe second piece wild and messy withe the bones needing to be unearthed.
    This though, “…I long for the betterment of my sentences and a crispness and fruitfulness that of course can’t and shouldn’t be there in the text just yet”, gave me such pause and then joy because I had forgotten that it is still wild and the rest has yet to become. Thank you.

    • I’ve been trying so hard to keep things neat and tidy while I go along with this draft that now there is so much more to do to make it live – I can’t wait to find out more about what you’re working on Lyra.

  2. They are such wonderful prints. I love your words even more.
    Trying to find the balance between structure and letting go, it’s a beautiful and sometimes agonizing wrestling match. I think of this mostly when I’m painting.

    • I really wanted to find one to hang on my wall – sadly there wasn’t even a postcard of either of these images.

      I didn’t know you painted. Do you ever put them on your site?

  3. CJ

    The way a visual artist writes–the lines, the under painting, the possible pentimento, I know it well. Love reading your mulling journeys. What Lyra says I too relate. nearing the end of my first draft. The page count doesn’t matter, I know it isn’t deep yet, but the map is drawn, a crude map, but still something to guide me the next pass through.

    Thanks for sharing those beautiful images.

    • Thanks for teaching me a new word – pentimento. I’d only known that somewhat similar literary equivalent, palimpsest.

      Is this your memoir you are working on?

  4. CJ

    The WIP is a novel set in Oklahoma. The first book is an autobiographical novel called RAMBLER, predominately set in the Ozarks–Bible belt center of the U.S. The blog is my attempt to reveal the biography at the core of RAMBLER. the blog as close to memior as I’ve ever gotten.

    I know I’m taking a risk posting a WIP on a blog without a password–but then I wouldn’t know amazing writers like you if I hadn’t risked it.

  5. Mmm, scrumptious. Your descriptions are gorgeous as always. (The fat cold rain . . . wish I’d thought of that.)

    I understand that impatience to get the words right, even before they’re supposed to be. I tend to get locked up and unable to move on if the words won’t flow, but of course you’ve got to build the structure first. I’ve got no patience. Maybe yours will rub off on me.

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