Dad, you died on Halloween night, ten years ago, was it? We came out of that miserable little hospital in Hawick and the streets were full of children guising, dressed up as ghosts and monsters. You were the most convincing skeleton. I loathe Halloween, all that black and orange.
I made this painting for you, Dad, after seeing the pumpkins and squashes that suddenly proliferate in the shops at this time in the year (my mum called this autumnal time “the back-end’). I can’t remember hollowing out pumpkins which you would have dismissed as too American, you gave us turnips to make lanterns out of. Impossible. You might as well carve wood.
I find myself down at the new grocer shop on Dumbarton Road, “think global act local”. I buy squashes, all varieties, for their colour and shape, their abstract qualities. After painting them I cook them too, roasted in the oven.
I thought of you Dad because you were a gardener. As a young man it’s what you wanted to do as a job but didn’t. You weren’t allowed.
You had a lovely garden, and for a time an allotment too. You grew flowers but mainly food, practical concerns always trumping aesthetic: potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, leeks, parsnips and also things like tomatoes, strawberries and I remember once, later, as evidence of a more open mind, garlic. We ate well.
It kept vampires away (though not ultimately). These food still lives (this one and another one titled 'Messages') are about the body really, a way of exploring it. Shapes that are substitutes for body parts. My parents biggest concern was the effects of food itself, what the food did to their bodies: wind, indigestion, keeping you regular, etc.
I wonder if they eat turnip in Miami? _________
Ten recent paintings:
Winter vegetables ( to Robert Bell Cranston); watching the box; Wept for a day gone by; If you see something that doesn’t look right (after Hammershoi); snow globe; On the corner ( the way Jude stood); Keramic ( an everyday intrusion of someone I didn’t like); Messages; Landing; Without you
Ten recent paintings all made with pigment and gum arabic. These paintings have something to do with being inside, indoors all this time. Not just in the period of making but the time before, this period of time since March 2020, the time of covid and lockdowns. Still lifes, interiors, views from the window.
The focus has been very narrow and the aim small.
I’ve felt a bit ill, not very ill but slightly ill. I haven’t had covid but Lorna has. I don’t feel strong. I feel weak. I cry easily. I feel like making slight gestures in my paintings, a breath on a window pane, steam from the kettle, a spiders web ( which are actually very tough really, relatively, feats of engineering.) When I walk to the shops for milk and bread ( for “messages” as they say in Scotland) I feel dizzy. I wonder if it’s because of the sudden change of space, that my horizon opens up and seems overwhelmingly big, a world without walls. I hurry back indoors. To the security of walls, interior space. I feel like making work that is hardly there at all, something gentle like my mums home-baking. I think about a dark brown apricot cake she made and her meringues, chewy perfect off-white meringues, my mum’s magical alchemy. I feel close to my long dead parents just now. I miss them but I’m glad they missed all this.
I feel slightly alienated from the world at the moment actually, from its concerns. These paintings are saying nothing of any significance and I’m not even sure what, if anything, they might communicate to anyone else, other than relating something about the awareness - the ‘nowness of now’ as Dennis Potter called it - of being in a specific time and space. You ( reader, viewer) are in your space, and each of us are locked into something, our situation and feelings. Together in alone-ness.
I am painting like an old lady just now. I am thinking of Vanessa Bell, Gwen John maybe even Agnes Martin. Artists that retreated and worked secretively, quietly. I feel I’ve retreated just now. I Can’t face the studio. The building where the studios are is the HQ for New York Times during COP 26 and so the security is tight, we have to get searched and show a pass we’ve been issued with. Lorna has been going and comes back a bit annoyed that she has to explain who she is and what she’s doing with a bag full of turps bottles. I can’t be bothered explaining so am staying in the house…’ working from home’, which is strange. In between painting I make soup and stews and do laundry. The paintings are being made accumulatively, little marks here and there, building to something. I feel like I am on an artists residency, lots of my stuff, materials and research information, is not around me. I feel limited in a useful way, I am looking much more at what is around, out the window and in the flat, under my nose, exploring.
These paintings have nothing to say and they are saying it.
A plane circles in the sky all day over Partick and Finnieston looking for suspicious activity and it is said that above that plane, high above the clouds, is another plane hardly visible also circling, watching the watcher. Air of paranoia. The radio announces that the threat of a likely terrorist attack has been moved from substantial to severe. More incentive to stay in.