Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Loraine Morley

26th December 2016

…In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments;

My year begins in February. The old year holds on here, January indistinguishable from December. Not a ‘Sale’ or ‘Winter Get Away’ sign in sight. Simply fields and trees and sheep. All sodden, drenched and dripping with rain from an ashen sky too weighed down with its own troubles, perhaps, to remember to stop. The stream overflows the bank, gushing down to the hollow where our studios sit. The drains are not sufficient to deal with this much water, the ground too saturated to absorb it. The studios soon open onto a pond, and beyond, ten acres of mud. Nothing grows in this environment, even the weeds struggle. I keep the Christmas lights up in my studio through January and a fire blazing in the stove to ward off the deadening sense of stagnation.

And then the first pale blue crocuses appear out on the patio. I never cease wondering how they do it, surviving the most dismal of conditions to live their crocus lives another year. They’ve become my cue to follow suit. Particularly urgent this year as I’m participating in ‘A view from the margins’, a joint exhibition with three other women artists. I use waste materials to work and re-work themes, no longer so marginal, of loneliness, isolation and homelessness.


As I work on the pieces for the exhibition, the sludge brown around my studio turns green and the first daffodils appear. They’re earlier than usual, and the pulmonaria which usually accompanies them is barely in leaf and eventually fails to flower. In late April we hear the first cuckoo. It’s all slightly out of sync, and if I understood their language I imagine I might hear a confused murmur in the trees and amongst the plants below.

‘A view from the margins’ is a minor success. Four unknown artists in a small gallery in a small town in a remote part of the country, could it be otherwise? Visitors expecting nice pottery and landscapes are intrigued and ask many questions about the strange display of objects and images we’ve presented. No sales, but that was expected. For me the show was a reason to stir from my winter torpor and begin a new year.


A stranger appears on the grass outside my window. A large bird with streaks of black in its white crown and brilliant blue-edged wings. I discover it’s a Jay. My friend who lives in a large town in the south tells me they’re very common in the local parks. Apparently they’re very intelligent birds. So what was it doing this far out in the wilds? Perhaps looking for something it couldn’t find elsewhere.


Stored in a cupboard is a piece of my past I’m still deeply attached to but rarely have the right setting to re-connect with. My vinyl collection of 70’s disco-funk and rare-groove. This is music that needs a crowd, dancing in a darkened room, ideally under a glitter-ball. The bar at this summer’s Fforest gathering in Cardiganshire didn’t supply a glitter-ball or many people, but my few hours on the turntables were a joy. A brief reunion with my youth, and the music that saw me through troubled times.

A week in Suffolk in September leads to the discovery of two unsettlingly beautiful landscapes. Orford Ness, scattered with the rusting remains and unexploded bombs of two world-wars, its north coast giving way to the sea, and Sizewell beach, in the shadow of the vast blue domed monolith of Sizewell nuclear power station. A dormant threat of a different order. Yet plants and wildlife in the sandy dunes are thriving, and people go about the business of enjoying the late summer sun, eating their sandwiches and walking the dogs. There’s something achingly precious about these fragile places.


An unexpected opportunity comes my way. A commission for the Oriel Davies Gallery’s new exhibition, ‘The Drawing Room’. Time is limited – three weeks – and I’ve decided to make something that’s actually going to be used as furniture. A coffee table. But from the raw material (cardboard cycle packaging) to the finished article, I’ve days to spare. I call it ‘The Studio’ coffee table because the surface is finished with images from vintage copies of The Studio, the fine arts and crafts magazine published between 1893 and 1964. My favourite image is an ad. from a 1941 issue for art classes somewhere on Oxford Street, “Air-raid shelter available”. I’m keeping that creative indomitability in mind in the times ahead.

The trees shower the earth with leaves, like amber and crimson confetti. A wedding I don’t mind being present at every year.


I finish The Other Side, the only novel by the illustrator Alfred Kubin, published in 1909. It’s about a fantastical region called the Dream Kingdom, conceived and realised by a fabulously wealthy man, where time has been reversed half a century. It’s early and very bizarre Fantasy Fiction, the imaginings of a mind in the midst of a mental breakdown. But a glance at the latest news from the American Presidential election campaign, and Kubin’s Dream Kingdom doesn’t seem so far-fetched.


For months I’ve been mentally preparing to undergo a surgical procedure. But my calm is shaken when I realise the surgery is scheduled for the morning of the US election results, and I’m assailed by the petrifying vision of my anaesthetist and surgeon arriving at the hospital bleary-eyed after sitting up all night to watch the proceedings. I’m staying with a friend the night before who lives close to the hospital, and my teetering equilibrium takes another blow when I come downstairs in the morning and am met with his shocked face and incredulous voice saying ‘He won’. But there’s no more time to fall apart, and by 10.30 am it’s all over; my surgery, that is. Fear and loathing at the thought of a Trump Presidency is just beginning. And yet was it that surprising? As an old friend in the US would say, ‘The chickens have come home to roost’. Although in Trump’s vision for America, the non-human world will be accorded no such rights.

Two days later I’m home, and restricted to armchair, sofa and bed for the next ten days. Given the national and international news, I can think of no better place to recover than here, amid the muddy fields and bare trees, watching the birds at the bird feeder, and listening to the music, as I do all week, of the indomitably creative Bill Evans. I’m not up to much reading, but I finish John Zerzan’s book, Why Hope? His argument, in a nutshell, is that civilization is killing us. A bold claim. But a moment’s reflection on the last forty years and I can’t disagree.


The super-moon shines down through the sky-light like a cosmic search-light. If there were a consciousness behind it, what would it find down here; and the next time around?


Loraine Morley is a self-taught artist who makes objects from discarded paper and cardboard. She lives and works on ten wild acres in a remote part of Wales.