I have been listening to Der Abschied, the closing part of The Song of The Earth by Gustav Mahler. The songs in Song of The Earth, a composition for two voices and an orchestra, are based on several poems written by poets of the Tang dynasty.
This particular version was conducted in 1952 by his friend Bruno Walter. It is a moving piece made all the more powerful once you learn that Mahler didn’t live to hear the work performed.
Kathleen Ferrier’s contralto voice is incredible and sadly she was gravely ill with cancer when she performed it for this recording. She died the following year aged just 41.
Tragic, beautiful and addictive listening!
This piece continues my project responding to recordings of The Song of the Earth. For this work I listened to a version conducted by Long Yu which pairs Mahler’s symphonic song-cycle with contemporary compositions by Xiaogang Ye that draw on the texts in the original Mandarin.
The title ‘Everywhere the Lovely Earth Blossoms Forth’ is a line from Mahler’s version of The Song of the Earth. The songs talk of the beauty of the earth but the words today take on a new troubling poignancy as our awareness grows of the destruction the human race has unleashed on the natural world.
Man-made climate change threatens us all with developing countries and the poor currently facing the greatest threat. How can we work together to create a fairer and more sustainable future? Art can provide new and unexpected routes into reflective dialogue that brings the heart and soul into engagement with tackling climate change issues.
“There’s a guy I worked with in Canada who once told me important issues first go into your head and that’s interesting and fascinating. Then they go into your heart and that’s exciting, then into your gut, which is really worrying, and then into your soul.
“When it goes into your soul, you can’t get it out, no matter how much you try, and you have to do something about it.
“I think that’s what happened to me with climate change. First of all, I found it fascinating, then it was all very exciting to try and understand and see where it was happening, then it was really troubling. Now it’s in my soul and that’s what gets me out of bed every day.”
Looking at this painting sketch I am reminded of Joan Mitchell. In many of her works you will find a central trunk like form and growing out from this limbs of paint that are comparable to the boughs of a tree.
Consider for example Bracket (by Joan Mitchell, 1989). Prudence Peiffer describes this set of relationships and their effect aptly as ‘like a top, these vertical lines centre the work’s spin’* and Joan Mitchell herself talks of a plumb line. ‘I want them to hold one image ‘ she said, ‘despite all the activity. It’s a kind of plumb line dancers have’**
Image 1: Untitled by Joy C Martindale (April 2021), 36x26cm
Image 2: Brackett (1989) Oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell, Image sourced from joanmitchellfoundation.org
Images 3,4,5 and 6 pages from Joan Mitchell, Selected Paintings, The Presence of an Absence, Essay by Nathan Kernan, Cheim and Read, New York 2002
SAVAGE Journal have released their SAVAGE postcard exhibition! Posted is a set of 15 postcards featuring the work of UCL artists, spanning photography, painting, collage, sculpture, drawing and performance.
☀️Included in the set is my painting Sing To Me.☀️
What helped you get through the most recent lockdown?
I turned to music and had the radio on for most of the day, every day! I found music provided a much needed form of escapism.
In my current practice I am exploring the act of making art as a liberating gesture. The various positive sensations of pleasure, calm, elation and catharsis that listening to music gives me, as I paint and draw in my studio, collide and combine with all the other sensations I am experiencing at that moment and are translated directly into my painting. From music – to my body and mind’s response – to the painting, to the viewer experiencing the work, is a chain of sensations. These chains of sensations connect us to each other and help us make sense of our realities, as Haruki Murakami explains so eloquently here:
“Because memory and sensations are so uncertain, so biased, we always rely on a certain reality-call it an alternate reality-to prove the reality of events. To what extent facts we recognize as such really are as they seem, and to what extent these are facts merely because we label them as such, is an impossible distinction to draw. Therefore, in order to pin down reality as reality, we need another reality to relativize the first. Yet that other reality requires a third reality to serve as its grounding. An endless chain is created within our consciousness, and it is the very maintenance of this chain that produces the sensation that we are actually here, that we ourselves exist.”
You can see a painting I made about this on the cover of the latest issue of Savage Journal, Issue #13 Sensation. Savage Journal is UCL’s Arts and Culture Journal – Read it online or pick up a copy for free from the UCL campus.
My children have just discovered The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and I felt happy when I laughed myself into hysterics at a funny scene. Does that count?
I felt happy yesterday when I was on a train reading a magazine. I was reading that visitors to the artist Lala Rukh’s house were greeted by ‘two unmistakable seasonal smells: in winter, log-fire smoke and in summer, jasmine and lime wafting in from the garden.’* One sentence was enough to transport me there. The feeling of happiness that came with it was strong but momentary, does that count? In this strange and unsettling time, which has impacted on every aspect of our lives, I think it has to.
I think it is possible to equate positive emotional experiences – those little, everyday mood boosting moments that bring us joy – to happiness. Before the pandemic, perhaps happiness was something that shined with promise on the horizon; a state of being that could be obtained if we worked hard enough for it, but now when the future has become an unknown quantity and our focus has been pulled up short, it is our day-to-day experiences that we feel most acutely attuned to. With this has come a greater awareness of our moods and the fleetingness of them. Think of all the moods you can be in all in one day – an anxious mood, a sad mood, an angry mood, a calm mood, a dreamy mood and so on. Something positive that can come out of this imposed day-to-day existence could be the realisation that if we can let go of the pursuit of happiness as a panacea, we may become more open to acknowledging those nuggets of happiness we are already experiencing in our everyday lives.
So, even when we might feel sad, lonely, anxious or unhappy as we have probably all felt at some point during the pandemic, it is possible to experience happiness as part of these emotional experiences too.
More reading: Dr Daisy Fancourt and Research Fellow Alex Bradbury (UCL Epidemiology & Health) have tracked the everyday experiences of 70,000 people asking them each week how they are feeling.
In my current practice I am exploring the act of making art as a liberating gesture. The title ‘Sing To Me‘ refers to the essential escapism music has provided me during the Covid-19 lockdowns. The various positive sensations of pleasure, calm, elation and catharsis listening to music gives me, as I paint and draw in my studio collide and combine with all the other sensations I am experiencing at that moment and are translated directly into my painting. From music – to my body and mind’s response – to the painting, to the viewer experiencing the work, is a chain of sensations. These chains of sensations connect us to each other and help us make sense of our realities, as Haruki Murakami explains so eloquently here:
“Because memory and sensations are so uncertain, so biased, we always rely on a certain reality-call it an alternate reality-to prove the reality of events. To what extent facts we recognize as such really are as they seem, and to what extent these are facts merely because we label them as such, is an impossible distinction to draw. Therefore, in order to pin down reality as reality, we need another reality to relativize the first. Yet that other reality requires a third reality to serve as its grounding. An endless chain is created within our consciousness, and it is the very maintenance of this chain that produces the sensation that we are actually here, that we ourselves exist.”Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun
Growing up I was conditioned to think that the only role models worth looking up to were male. It wasn’t until my early thirties, when I had a baby and was trying to figure out how it might be possible to be both a mother and build a career as an artist, that I really began to seriously question this way of thinking. All my treasured novels were written by men and my favourite art books were about men. I was shocked to see how deeply I had absorbed this message. I began to consciously seek out female role models who had strived to follow their ambitions no matter what obstacles came their way.
One brilliant artist whose story has guided me as an artist since I became a mother is Rose Wylie. At Folkestone and Dover College of Art, Rose Wylie was told women couldn’t become great artists: “[Being an artist] was considered a stupid idea, women were just there for a bit of culture, like a finishing school, something to do until they got married. All the teachers were men, there were no women.”*
Rose Wylie married a fellow artist, Roy Oxlade, when she was 21 and the first of their three children came a year later: “We decided it was not a good idea for two parents to paint, because painting is very isolating and you do tend to focus on yourself and children then become an irritation. I don’t think it works, and I think the bringing up of children is hugely important. So, I brought up the children and I think that was a good idea.”* She started painting again after about 20 years and today has earned international recognition for her work and is a hugely celebrated British artist.
I like the way Rose Wylie takes ownership of her decision to wait until her children had grown up to return to painting. I believe that women should be able to choose for themselves how they want to approach balancing career aspirations with earning a living and bringing up children.
Whatever we decide to do it isn’t easy and I am still trying to work many things out. Finding positive role models to take inspiration from can help us navigate through challenges and hard times, such as the Covid-19 pandemic when the lockdowns have added insecurity and upheaval to our lives and it has been difficult or impossible to live, work, think and act in the ways that we are used to.