Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months.
Spring was when I decided to learn a bit more about bumblebees – it became a bumblebee year for me. Sitting in Cornish coastal woodland, the first bluebells opening from vibrant fleshy leaves, waiting for the queens to emerge from their nests. Big fat stripy teddy bears buzzing up from the woodland floor for me to try and identify. Gradually I found the ability to see the different species and delighted in my newfound knowledge – walking through the lanes and along the coast path “mmm another Bombus pascorum and there’s a Bombus hortorum”. Fantastic. Never too late to learn a new skill; and then to paint and draw these beautiful models. I made a short film with the BBC about bumblebees – about the bees and about their plight. We have lost a few species from this country and others are becoming rare on the ground, a problem for all our pollinators. Friends of the Earth put pressure on the Government to reign in those bee muddling neonicotinoid sprays from the farmers with a degree of success, but maybe only temporarily.
I attended the opening of the new Friends of the Earth London office and give a speech and unveiled a big painting of mine on their walls; a large splash of coastal collage placed on an urban brick wall.
Throughout the year I jumped on and off the West Cornish inshore fishing boats, scribbling and documenting the more sustainable fishing practices around these shores, meeting many characters knee deep in sardines, mackerel, bass and mullet, bouncing around out there on the Atlantic. Hard lives that respond to those salty challenges; a mix of cheerful pragmatism and a degree of cynicism.
Survival International notifies me with weekly reminders. New groups of uncontacted vulnerable Indians revealed in the South American forests. Urgent situations for people in the paths of miners and foresters. Some amazing successes, campaigns to lean on governments for protection and declarations of land titles. Some sad deplorable situations as well in Asia, Africa, South America – a fantastic worthwhile organisation.
I designed the charity [Greenpeace, Water Aid, Oxfam] and main festival t-shirt for Glastonbury, and then revelled in Mogwai’s after dark spectacular, painting in their wonderful blue cacophony. Then crazy Port Eliot and hot river swimming.
My local cliff of Cargodna attracted my attention – we find a previously unnoticed side path that zig zags down towards the sea, to end in a memorial plaque to the twenty miners that died here in the 19th century. Now an isolated barely visited open shaft with an encircling wall, but a cliff reclaimed by nature and once again dominated by the choughs and peregrines. I spend days here alone with my canvas spread out on the floral cliff edge chatting to the pipits and stonechats.
After seven years of planning, my “River” exhibition opened at The Horniman Museum; a retrospective of 30 years of river projects, representing all that time I have spent on the river banks of the world. A vast amount of canvas; walking around this exhibition, each painting takes me back to a particular time of my life as well as a specific watercourse; memories, moments and occasions…. my life and these rivers merging together, what a great metaphor.
I worked all through the year on another project, “Place” journeying to locations dotted around and up and down the country chosen by the contributors. Each person sends me somewhere that has a special meaning to them. I paint, draw and sculpt in these ‘places’, they write and describe their reasons, passions, and nostalgia…. all put together in a beautiful book. I find myself on mountains and islands, golf courses and Iron Age forts, in forests and housing estates, revelling in the diversity of our country, battling with demanding and the often-surprising subject matter sprung on me. Highs and lows, but Caroline always keeps me company and grounded, a memorable year.
River showing at The Horniman Museum, London. From 29th of November 2014 – 25th January 2015.
Place at Southampton City Art Gallery. 14th November 2014 – 7th March 2015. An accompanying book, Place, has been published by Sansom & Company.