I have come to a conclusion. One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.
Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing. ‘Where are your workings?’ they asked me. I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering. Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.
When a painting is abstract, there is a process. You begin with the real thing. A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form. You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart. You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes. Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad. We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad. We are not sketching, class. We are drawing.
Semantics. It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.
So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death. It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing. If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset. I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them. Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame. Picasso. Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting. The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.
So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show. In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract. Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.
Back to my newly drawn conclusion.
I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea. Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish. I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me. Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace. I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration. I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again. I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home. I never see it again.
When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while. But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all. I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth. I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe. No, it is not a panic attack. There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about. It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines. I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch. I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive. There is no panic in any of that. So it’s not a panic attack.
It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.
I know the rocks on the shore. My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter. They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats. I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me. I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep. I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein. I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water. I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.
It’s not a fairytale. it’s a conclusion. Mine.
So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life. I will go to where I came from. Back to the sea.